I feel like almost everyone begins almost everything they say these days with the preface, “I feel like….” I feel like they are not in fact talking about their feelings but offering opinions or thoughts, or even sometimes making plans. What does it mean to present thoughts in terms of feelings? Perhaps it is a belated cultural recognition of the psychological truth, that we do experience thoughts emotionally, that we do need feelings in order to make decisions. It used to be fairly mainstream for scientists to claim that animals didn’t have feelings or consciousness but only followed pre-programmed instincts, and yet our own most powerful feelings are those we feel because of our own pre-programmed instincts – the love for our own children, the romantic love that so many songs and poems are about, the fears that give children nightmares, our fears for our children’s safety. Maybe our thoughts are only rationalisations of our feelings, just as our morals, I think I read somewhere, don’t determine what we do, though we might think that they do, but are worked out afterwards to be consistent with our actions. If we work for an oil company we are less likely to believe in climate change, not because this is why we work for the oil company in the first place but because we have to live with ourselves afterwards. So maybe it is a good idea to begin with an awareness of our feelings. We went to a lovely climate change salon the other night, ready to talk to people living locally about what we might get on and do, but the evening started with the suggestion we talk first about our feelings. I thought, feelings? I want to make a plan of action! By the end of the evening, we hadn’t even started to come up with a single plan of anything we might do. But we all felt very differently than we had when we turned up – we felt connected to each other, hopeful, ready to act. We are going to meet up again and make plans, and this time, when we make plans, we will know who we are making them with, we will know what concerns the plans are addressing, we will want to work with each other specifically, not just with a group of local people who happen to want to take action. So, I feel like it does matter to think about how we feel. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself entering a conversation using the phrase myself, for (I think) the first time. It felt very comfortable, perhaps because I was talking like everyone else (all much younger than I am), in the way it feels comfortable to be dressed similarly at, say, a climate change salon, but also, I think, because I wasn’t quite presenting an argument, or making a claim that could be expected to be backed up. I was just mentioning a feeling. But I wasn’t, really. I was making a claim. It is a bit like the way politicians – but also colleagues (who also say “I feel like” sometimes, even in formal meetings – quite nice really) will talk “around” a subject. I feel like this is a way of skirting the issue – we have conversations around a topic, rather than addressing particular points of view or points of contention. And yet, when I wanted to replace the word “around” with the word “about,” I realised they are in fact almost the exact same word, and perhaps in the same way the word “about” has come to mean “on the subject of,” so, too, does the word “around.” Or does it? Have we moved from “about” to “around” just because the word “around” does still allow us to skirt around an issue we ought to be confronting directly? I feel like we ought to acknowledge our feelings, but I also feel like we ought to then present thoughts, and claims, that can be challenged and which could be backed up with evidence, and we ought to act on our claims and the implications of them, and we ought to plant trees, and put some solar panels on our roofs. And I feel like the phrase “I feel like” ought to introduce a simile at least as often as a thought or an opinion or a plan, and perhaps what I really want to feel like is a leaf, or a hen, or a sink full of dishes. I feel like a pillow with no head on me, a carpet with dust swept under it, a cicada singing its one day’s quota of song, a screen with words inflicting themselves on me, one dark letter at a time.
These are paragraphs without essays or books to go in.