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Are emotions rational?

Updated: Feb 26

During the last few decades, especially since evolvement of media, we have been taught to get a hold of our emotions and sometimes even mistrust them. We are constantly being signaled that we should be skeptical about our true feelings and act on the basis of rationality. However we seem to forget the balance in between the two, rationality & emotions.

I do not claim to be a scientist or an expert in this field. Take this as a story which is coming from an individual experience. I will sprinkle around research & data, to reassure myself and you in the merit I am signing off on.

So here is how my interaction with my emotional self started.

I was born in 1988 before the fall of the Soviet Union, of which Azerbaijan was part of. As we all know, the generation which was born in 50s and 60s were taught by life to be very disciplined, hard working & act on necessities. There were so many things that deemed to be luxury. Imported goods, traveling abroad, television sets, jeans, McDonalds & safe spaces for emotions. Suppression was all around. Most of the population in Soviet Azerbaijan learned to “power through” all the challenges that, that “era” was offering. Hence, there was little time to have a deep dive into emotional states of one another.

In general the 20th century itself was very challenging to vast majority of countries across the map. Wars, conflicts, overthrown governments, famine & refugee camps. Open up any history book and you will see how f***ed up the world was in 20th century. Is 21st any better? Debatable… One thing for sure it is very different.

Having parents born and living in that time led me on to a pattern. My dad sat me down one day and told me a story about emotional control & justice. Being a military man who loves history, all of his lessons were either backed by a historic occurrence, philosophy or a military “way of life”. 

Here is the story with which the pattern started

Frequently the commanding officer (CO) is not allowed to punish his subordinate on the same day of the soldiers misconduct. The CO has to sleep on it first. This will give him enough time to dial his emotions down and provide his military unit(s) with a well balanced punishment. Which is not to harsh & not too soft. In other words rational punishment, which should prevent the misconduct from happening again & is also fair.

Everytime I remind myself this story I remember the “lady justice”. Which is the symbol of justice and can be seen on office tables of lawyers, prosecutors & judges.

Finding Justice in the Story of Lady Justice

Balance Scales: These represent impartiality and the obligation of the law (through its representatives) to weigh the evidence presented to the court. Each side of a legal case needs to be looked at, and comparisons made as justice is done.

Sword: This item symbolizes enforcement and respect and means that justice stands by its decision and ruling and is able to take action. The fact that the sword is unsheathed and very visible is a sign that justice is transparent and is not an implement of fear. A double-edged blade signifies that justice can rule against either of the parties once the evidence has been perused, and it is bound to enforce the ruling as well as protect or defend the innocent party.

Blindfold: This first appeared on a Lady Justice statue in the 16th century and has been used intermittently since then. Apparently, its original significance was that the judicial system was tolerating abuse or ignorance of aspects of the law. However, in modern times, the blindfold represents the impartiality and objectivity of the law and that it doesn’t let outside factors, such as politics, wealth or fame, influence its decisions.

Now back to the story… What my father was trying to tell 13 year old Rashad was that, negative emotions cause ignorance or clouded judgement. I took this lesson very seriously. Teachings of this lesson served as one of the cornerstones of my character build up. There are people who know me for years, yet they have never seen me being abnormally emotional.

This theory & military story philosophy is almost perfect when it comes to leading a team, managing a company or starting a project with other members involved. However, it proved to be frequently ineffective when it comes to daily interactions & life in general.

Here is the simple narrative that we have been observing for years: It seems too risky to expose one’s true feelings, to let anything but cold hard logic dictate one’s decisions. Because, the thinking goes, emotions are essentially irrational.

If we look at history, especially to the works of Aristotle, Nietzsche & many others we can conclude that emotions and reason are not contradicting each other, better yet they are complimenting. You start to see where I am getting at, right?

A lot of philosophers and psychologists argued that feelings have their own intelligence and wisdom. Moreover, they are necessary in order to participate in the human experience and must be intertwined with our rational predispositions in order to achieve the well balanced life.

Speaking of well balanced life, I encountered with a very profound statement recently. Here is what Ghandi said “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

I am going to give a humble attempt to unwrap the question I have been dwelling on for the past few months – “How logic and reason can be aligned with emotions?”

1 – We perceive our reason and logic as something “given” which operates in the background. We use our thinking ability to weigh options, reach to outcomes and make decisions.

2 – On the other hand, emotions are perceived as something just happening to us, as something intrusive. Even sometimes emotional decisions are deemed as non-intelligent.

What if your instinctive emotional decision is the most intelligent after all? What if rational side of you is able to operate on higher pace?

As a matter of fact, if thesis about  1 & 2 was true, our decision making capabilities would be nearly perfect. The paradox is that, research is showing that what actually happening is, when you remove emotions from judgement, is that people struggle to make choices at all. In the book called “True to our feelings” a professor of philosophy Robert Solomon said:“People with severe emotional deficits (because of stroke, tumor, or other lesions) suffer enormously from not being able to make rational decisions, despite the fact that their other cognitive faculties (in other words, what is usually called intelligence) seem to be functioning fine. They can calculate consequences and compare options but because they do not really care about either consequences or options they have no basis for making a decision.”

Emotions are the lights that we are chasing with our decisions. They are the guides for our choices – evaluative judgements that function not consciously but in a visceral, intuitive and kinesthetic way. 

“Our emotions assign value to things and tell us what is worth wanting. The passions are not the opposite of reason; they are the foundation of reason and often contain a wisdom the analytic brain can not reach”

Click clack, bang bang!  It was a very deep thesis. This statement was written by David Brooks in the “The second mountain”.

Now, if we take this thesis as a starting point to make my argument, then check this out…

Nietzsche, who argued that all passions include their “quantum of reason”, came down on the question this way:“All seeing is essentially perspective, and so is all knowing. The more emotions we can allow to speak in a given matter, the more different eyes we can put on in order to view a give spectacle, the more complete will be our conception of it, the greater our objectivity

So far we leaned on emotions assigning value, however they can discern it as well. They gauge not only subjective worth, but objective value. 

This time I do not want to paint dark images in my writing, I just want to make you think on a free roam. After all, I am not writing a textbook. No one, including me has figured it all. Therefore bare with me, let’s see how it goes. 

Aristotle said that emotions are rational when they come at the right time, for the right reason, in the right amount – when they are on target and the object of emotion justifies the degree of reaction. 

First of all, no one is that perfect. Second, Solomon explains this theory with the help of hypothetical situation.

“We get angry at someone, about something. The important question, accordingly, is whether the anger is rightly aimed, whether it has picked out the right object (the offender), and whether the anger is warranted by the situation. (The person targeted may in fact be the offender but the offense is so minor that it does not warrant the anger.) If both object is right and the seriousness of the accusation is warranted, then the anger is rational and reasonable”

Therefore in even simpler terms I will try to explain. You understand You, the emotion you are experiencing, you decide on emotion’s rationality or reasonability & finally you decide to act on it. How you act on it is another process which has it’s own rationality levels.

Comment 1: Rationality of emotion is based on the offender & the occurrence

Comment 2: Rationality of action is on the basis of You, your ecosystem & governing power(faith, religion, government, society etc)

Final comment:If we label the last stage of the “emotion to action” process I described above as: Execution. Then according to my father’s lesson, I was being taught the process as an incomplete endeavor. His attempt to make it less confusing and easier for me led me on to twirling for a while.

I ended up thinking about emotions as something intrusive and always wanted to operate on logic, reason & rationale. Good or bad it was for me, that is for me to decide. Perception of reality is very individual. One thing for sure, everything is happening for a reason.

In my opinion with help of a few sources I was able to deconstruct the topic I had in mind. However, I am not done yet. I want to close the scene with a story and an advice.

More than a year ago I met the CEO of one of the top 10 Azerbaijani companies in a professional group setting. We had a multiway discussion which, resulted greatly to my benefit. However the CEO, whom I am going to remain nameless was the most impressive person in the room. The questions, the answers, the sarcasm & even humor – gently whispered “Elite”. A very intelligent, observant, humble, sharp & naturally confident person.

Few days later I write a direct message to that person via Linkedin. Here is the last paragraph of it.

“In fact, one thing I regretted when I left the room was that I did not ask any of you for any advice, so this is a cry for help & an attempt to fix my mistake. If you have an availability, would be great to chat.

Enjoy your weekend.”

Couple of days later, we are having our scheduled zoom chat. We had a very interesting conversation covering wide variety of topics. It felt more like I was interviewing. I was not trying to sell anything or pitch anything. I was learning. Was trying to understand what made that person so “Elite”. (which has nothing to do with financial status or workplace position)

At the end of our agreed time slot I asked my last question: 

”If you could give me one advice, what would it be?”

After a refreshing sigh followed by a smile, I heard the following.

“Rashad be true to yourself”

My excited mind on how well the conversation went, did not comprehend the depth of that advice. The zoom call I am talking about happened in mid February last year, It just hit me today…what it actually meant. Thank you “Elite”!

“Be true to yourself” slingshot itself to top 5 advices I have ever got.

What being true to yourself means will not be answered by google. Its perceptually individual & unique.

Pura Vida!

August 15


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