Procrastinating as usual before starting work, my attention was caught by the BBC headline Why feeling guilty may make you a better boss. Having read the article, I don’t feel any the wiser or better informed – so I feel guilty that I wasted my time.
I do wonder just how possible it is to make valid studies of emotions.
I loathe having to fill out surveys where you “select the answer that most closely matches your own” in response to a hypothetical situation. Even if I can imagine being in such a situation, none of the options ever seem to fit the way I’d feel. And, of course, when I know what the survey is looking for, depending on how I feel about being roped in to answer questions, I have a tendency either to answer the way I think they want me to, or the opposite.
Apart from which, nothing’s ever that simple and the conclusions are always debateable.
One of the sidebars on the article includes the following (my emphasis on the last sentence):
The anthropologists Usha Menon and Richard Shweder presented Indian and American children with a list of three emotions – shame, happiness and anger – and asked them to pick the odd one out. While the American children viewed happiness as being the most different emotion, the Indian children chose anger. They seemed to be aware of a positive side to feeling shame.
I don’t think that’s a valid conclusion; there are simply too many other arguments to back up the choice.
In general, to be angry effectively you need someone else present: it’s an emotion to be shared – mostly by venting. It’s also a ‘loud’ or violent emotion, whereas shame and happiness are more contained and personal.
Alternatively, anger is the one you don’t want to spread. After all, if you can pass on happiness to others, it increases, which most people would agree was a good thing; if you can share the shame for something with someone else, it may well feel as if it’s less of a burden, which, again, seems like a good thing. Making more people angry is generally considered not to be a good thing.
The subjects of the study were children, and children tend to want to give the ‘right’ answer to please adults. At which point it may be relevant that very few parents ever smacked a child for feeling happy or ashamed, making anger the ‘bad’ one of the three and therefore the odd one out.
So, unlike the researchers, I am not going to draw any conclusions. I shall just feel guilty for wasting my time and yours.