PAGE THREE: Where feelings go too far

By Shana Lunzer, Staff Columnist

When we were children, all we could do was feel. We knew very little, so our beliefs were based mainly on intuition. We didn’t know the difference between right and wrong per se, but we did know that our feelings were hurt when someone wouldn’t share with us. It was an age when our feelings were always validated and always accepted as truths, regardless of how irrational — unbeknownst to us at the time — they may have been.

Once we entered elementary school, we began to truly know things. We learned how to derive what we thought we knew empirically, and our feelings were left by the wayside. We still felt, but we far more strongly believed in what we had newly discovered than in what we felt. We were decisive and headstrong, so what we knew or thought we knew was the only relevant part of any conversation.

The same trend typically continued into middle school, but around then feelings made a comeback. We were pre-teens flooded with hormones and we needed to be told that what we were feeling was okay, and very normal. We were told that sharing our feelings was courageous, that sharing what we were going through with others took real strength.

Now we are in high school, and unfortunately, somewhere along the line, feelings and knowledge have become confused. We have decided that feelings can substitute for knowledge and consequently, instead of being a mark of bravery, feelings have become an act of cowardice. We “feel,” so we do not have to “know,” and so we can’t ever be wrong. This has robbed us of the strength of conviction we had as children.

The phenomenon has gone beyond what happens between friends or in the classroom, it has somehow wormed its way into Town Hall. Instead of facts, information or arguments with constructive suggestions, speakers now often begin their statements with “personally..” or “I feel that…” When this happens, it undermines the goals of Town Hall.

In a recent New York Times opinion article, Molly Worthen explains the paradox:“‘I feel like’ masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.”

One of the most important aspects of Town Hall is that we learn how to have legitimate and productive conversation, with a safety net. It is supposed to prepare us for the real world where we will be thrown into the deep end with people who hold drastically different views than ours, but people we must nonetheless have conversations with. Not to say that there isn’t room for personal comments or feelings to further an argument — but only to do that, not to substitute for the argument itself.

There is a time and place for feelings and overtly personal jokes, but that’s on the turf during lunch, not in the gym on Thursdays. If Town Hall becomes just a place of feelings, and snarky comments, we are setting ourselves up for failure when we finally leave the Shalhevet bubble.

Moreso, we are wasting the opportunity to teach and learn from each other, and to inspire each other to be better. If we can leave “I feel” behind now, we will be ahead of the game when we leave, because this is not a problem that ends with graduation.