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Our emotions can be productive.
This shouldn’t be a radical statement, but we live in a culture where big feelings are to be politely eschewed, swept casually under the rug. But I believe that we can use them as tools. How can we leverage our big feelings, rather than just as terrible experiences we grit our teeth and suffer through?
Anger and sadness can feel overwhelming and stressful. Many of us, for instance, have felt intense anger over some aspect of our sociopolitical system over the past few years. We are angry over unchecked police violence against Black and brown people. We are enraged over unmitigated poisoning of the environment by corporations for profit. We are furious over flagrant discrimination against queer and trans people, women, Muslims and immigrants. Just writing this list, I am seething.
But we can channel that anger towards the sources of this injustice. We show up at protests. We call our senators. We give our money to the organizations on the ground doing the work every day. Unchecked, this raging fire can burn us out.
But without anger, we have no fuel for the fight.
Last week I pulled up to the intersection of Claiborne and Bienville and there was a pregnant woman asking for spare change at the corner. I gave her a dollar but as I pulled away, I cried from a childlike place inside that knows how wrong it is that anyone, let alone a pregnant woman, should have to go hungry or sleep on the street when so many of us live in such abundance.
For a minute I chastised myself for crying, but then I felt grateful for the way my sadness keeps me soft. Feeling sad means I’m paying attention. It signals that my empathy is turned on. Even though it sometimes makes me depressed or weepy, I wouldn’t have it the other way, cut off and cold.
If we’re constantly policing our feelings, we miss out on the wisdom they have.
But if we choose to let them in, we can channel our anger towards action. We can use our sadness to remain openhearted. Ask yourself: How can I use this sadness to shift my perspective? How can this anxiety connect me to others rather than isolate me? How can this anger give me clarity? Can my ambivalence help me to reorient towards things I truly love?
Our feelings can be tools, but only if we listen to them.