A Wider Palette

In my most recent post (“Beyond Binary“), I talked about the need to transcend dichotomies and false alternatives. One aspect of doing so is recognizing what I called a wider palette of viewpoints, which is easy to do in philosophy and psychology but not in politics (at least not in American politics with its two-party system).

Continuing my focus on the personal rather than the political, I’d like to explore another domain of human experience that is rightly home to a wider palette: the inner life of feelings and emotions.

Too many people have a kind of binary view of human feelings. For instance, we might think that one dimension of emotional experience is being either satisfied or angry. If these are the only alternatives along this dimension, then it’s all too easy to quickly escalate to an extremely angry reaction toward people or events you encounter.

A wider palette enables you to identify and experience a wider and likely healthier range of reactions. Perhaps you’re not truly angry (let alone irate, outraged, or furious) but merely annoyed, disappointed, irritated, miffed, vexed, frustrated, irked, or displeased. Or, on the positive side of the spectrum, perhaps you’re not merely satisfied but pleased, content, happy, delighted, elated, ecstatic, overjoyed, or euphoric.

One practice I’ve found helpful in this regard is searching for just the right word to describe what I’m feeling. To do so, I might consult one of my favorite books: the thesaurus. Or I might try to identify how a character in a novel I’ve read might have felt in a particular situation. This practice can be applied even more broadly to, say, pieces of music (is the emotional tenor of Chopin’s Polonaise #6 best captured by “heroic”, “triumphant”, “jubilant”, or “exultant”?). An added benefit is that taking a moment to identify what I’m feeling can give me just enough distance to not react immediately in a way that I might regret later.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!

One thought on “A Wider Palette

  1. That last sentence may be the most beneficial advice I’ve read in a long while. Getting “just enough distance to not react immediately in a way that I might regret later.” by trying to more accurately define my feelings while they are happening surely would alleviate so much anguish.

    Further, imagine the quality of relationships in which participants have developed this skill. Ok, let’s go all out! Imagine a society in which this skill has been inculcated for generations!!

    Ok, ok. I’ll settle down.


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