Feelings. Nothing More Than Fee-ee-eelings.

Some things need not be explained or justified.  Why you love your spouse.  Why you prefer chocolate to vanilla.  Why red is your favorite color.  These are things you feel.  That you feel them is sufficient, and there’s nothing more to discuss.

But if you want to persuade someone to see things your way, feelings are useless.  Feelings are yours.  Feelings are personal.  Feelings have nothing to do with logic or reason.  They cover up a myriad of sins, since each of us is entitled to feel as we do, without having to provide anyone else in the world with an explanation or meet another’s approval. 

Others have their own feelings. They don’t need yours.  Aside from the early stages of puppy love, they likely don’t really care what you feel anyway.  They are preoccupied with their own feelings.

The distinction is between emotion and reason.  The problem is that it’s become a total mashup lately, and the feelers are having some trouble understanding why other people, me for example, don’t respect their feelings.  I was reminded of this during discussions of my Slackoisie Litmus Test.  While the test worked out wonderfully, providing ample opportunity for people to see the conflict through the prism of their experience and perspective, regardless of which side (if any) they supported.  Unfortunately, not everyone was able to appreciate the point of the test.

One commenter assumed that I hate young people, and expounded that this was how I felt.  After explaining that I don’t hate young people, and, in fact, care deeply about young people, that being one of the primary reasons why I try so hard to encourage them to get off their duffs, stop whining and become productive members of society, I was informed that I’m wrong.  Why?  Because, that’s how she felt. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with people who believe their feelings on a subject that demands reason are sufficient.  The first it struck me square between the eyes was when I was teaching a CLE, and a new attorney informed me that she felt that she need not be concerned with how her argument played to a jury, as long as she felt it was a good argument.  Try as I might, she refused to accept the notion that her feelings were irrelevant, the jury being the decision maker.  Though the issue was one of reason, her position was one of emotion.  She wouldn’t be moved.  That the problem, as I pointed out, was that her satisfaction with her argument didn’t do her client much good when he was convicted.  No dice. She still wouldn’t budge.

The beauty of reliance on feelings is that it not only trumps all else, but it requires no further justification.  When I explained that her “feelings” were illogical, that they ignored reason and experience, it was like talking to a wall. I was informed that I didn’t get it, much like the old adage that everyone is entitled to an opinion.  Except it’s untrue; only those who have a basis for an opinion are entitled to one.  The rest are just making noise.

In the olden days, the difference between feeling and thinking were fairly well understood.  It’s become commonplace today for young lawyers and law students to believe that their feelings are inherently worthy, a fine substitute for reason, and they are hardly reluctant to express them and demand that you acknowledge them.  In ten years, they will look back (hopefully) and laugh (hopefully) at the childish silliness they spouted. 

For now, they wrap themselves up in the inherent belief that their feelings, about themselves, about others, about their work, about ideas, are self-justifying.   It’s a cocoon that protects them from having to face the fact that they don’t know everything, that their limited  life experience has not yet prepared them to comprehend the world around them.  Rather than recognize their limitations, they try to squish the world around them into their limited, often simplistic paradigm, It’s far easier to make sense of the world by pretending that everyone else is as limited as them, projecting their feelings onto others, assuming whatever serves their understanding without knowing much of anything.

I was told that I failed to “respect” this young woman because of my failure to understand and appreciate her feelings.  I responded that I showed her the utmost respect by virtue of discussing the issue with her.  This infuriated her, though she denied it.  I treated her like an adult, having a real discussion with real explanations.  That it was worth my time to engage in this discussion was as clear a show of respect as one person can give another.  If I didn’t respect her, I wouldn’t have bothered to engage her at all.

This was not merely an inadequate response on my part, as far as she was concerned, but an affront.  As if I was so arrogant that my deigning to talk to someone as lowly, as inconsequential as her was more than she deserved.  She didn’t understand.  While she is inconsequential in terms of her agreement or disagreement being of no consequence to me, or to anyone of consequence in my sphere, the most important thing I can offer to her directly is my attention and interest, as shown by my engaging directly in a discussion with her.  These are things of value to me, and I gave them to her.  It wasn’t enough for her.  She wanted to be coddled, to have her feelings shared and appreciated.  That I cannot do.

When it comes to your preference for chocolate over vanilla (or vice versa), acceptance decisions as we used to call them, your feelings are a perfectly fine way to go.  But when it comes to any idea or position that demands support, or which you hope to convey to another to persuade them that you’re correct, then your feelings have no place.  You cannot demand that others ignore reason and logic, or hide behind your (now hurt) feelings to smugly assert that it doesn’t matter what logic dictates, you’re still right. 

Spare us your feelings when it comes time to argue your point.  Give us your reasons, and be prepared to face the reasons of others.  I’m sorry if this hurts your feelings. but that’s how it is.

7 thoughts on “Feelings. Nothing More Than Fee-ee-eelings.

  1. Carolyn Elefant

    Don’t assume that your advice to the young attorney will not have any impact down the line. People learn in different ways, and sometimes, the learning process involves defiance. In my own case, when I was in law school and on my first few jobs, part of my learning process was to challenge authority figures. Often, it was not until I moved on to another position that I realized and came to appreciate some of their wisdom before it was too late.
    So keep on doing what you’re doing and don’t be frustrated, because I do believe that in a few years, you’re going to receive emails from these critics thanking you. I know because I’ve sent my share to my former nemeses myself.

  2. JKB

    This post reminded me of a paragraph from “Mind and hand: manual training, the chief factor in education” By Charles Henry Ham (1900):

    “Upon leaving school or college the lawyer, the judge, and the legislator at once apply themselves to books; their subsequent training is exclusively subjective. Their ideas receive color from, and are verified only by reference to, consciousness. Subjective truths have no relations to things, and hence are susceptible of verification only through consciousness. They are, therefore, mere speculations after all, often ingenious but always problematical. The result of such training is selfishness— selfishness of a very intense character; and, as has been already shown, selfishness is merely another name for injustice.”

    The premise of the book is to promote the inclusion of manual arts in education to ground students in the real world. Sadly it appears we’ve gone backwards. Now not even basing the self delusion on subjective reasoning but feelings alone.

  3. Mike

    Your comment focuses on the younglings, and whether and to what extent they will develop into proper stewards of their clients’ affairs.

    As fiduciaries, the concern must be with the clients who will get screwed over by this worthless generation.

    So after leaving a large pile of bodies underneath, these younglings will – maybe – finally “get it.” How wonderful for them. What about clients?

  4. Carolyn Elefant

    I think that for those who have clients, the learning process comes much more quickly. It’s easy to keep your head in the clouds when you are dealing with issues theoretically. Clients change the equation much faster. The trouble is that many young lawyers (and consultants and gurus) don’t have real clients, so it’s easy for them to spout off.
    Most of the people demanding work life balance or arguing that feelings trump evidence are not dealing with real clients or handling real cases. The associates at biglaw who complained were doing grunt work for partners, not for clients. Scott isn’t specific about the young lawyer at his CLE, but my guess is that she hasn’t yet had a jury trial (if she’s had dozens with good results, then I suppose her argument carries some weight, but I doubt that’s the case). If she had a real case with a client whose liberty was at stake, I doubt she’d take a chance on her theories.
    Likewise, the consultants who say that it’s OK to tell clients to call only between 10 and noon to enable you to keep control of your life. Or my favorite – to intentionally deliver mediocre quality at first so that when you do something above average, clients will rave (doesn’t sound like zealous representation to me). But these people don’t have clients.
    Yes, I agree that clients will ultimately suffer. But unfortunately, that is always the case, whether they suffer at the hands of a lawyer with wacky, unformed ideas or at the hands of an older lawyer who’s just lost interest. I don’t think that the casualties are as substantial as Mike and Scott believe – and though I’d love a system where clients never suffer a learning curve (or malpractice), I’m not sure that is possible.

  5. Mike

    It’s not just feelings. It’s the feeler’s solipsism that is the problem.

    I have feelings. Many of them. Good for me. My feelings only become a problem when I don’t recognize that YOU have feelings, too. And in that some contexts, YOUR feelings are the ones that matter.

    If you’re the jury, what relevance are my feelings? They are of no relevance. If you are my client, what relevance is my need for “work-life balance.” Except to the extent that a short break might mean better work product for YOU, MY needs are – or should be – irrelevant.

    So it’s not just that my generation “feels too much.” It’s that we’re solipsists. We think we’re the only ones who have feelings that matter. Thus, we go around demanding that others validate our feelings.

    We’re the same way with “thoughts.” I’m reminded of Scott’s post about the “upward bound blog” lawyers. They had “thoughts” – worthless ones.

    When told that their thoughts were worthless, they were outraged. How dare Scott not validate THEIR thoughts. Again, solipsism – or narcissism, depending on how you define those terms – is the problem.

    Think all you want. Feel all you want. Just don’t get pissy when others refuse to validate your thoughts or feelings. Other minds exist. Shocking to anyone under 40; but it’s true, I swear!

  6. R S

    I teach the “Slackoisie” in a couple of capacities (both in the classroom and in a private music studio), and it’s amazing how often “but that’s how I feel” is used as an actual “argument” for these kids. I’m still under 40, and I find their solipsistic behavior at best mind-numbing and at worst frightening.

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