Your emotional response to an experience says nothing either way about the integrity of your actual lifestyle. Ditto for other people.
That is, the internal experience of feeling sad or happy, angry or relaxed, enthusiastic or uninspired is not the measuring rod for determining what kind of person you are.
Character is a matter of what you do, not a matter of what you feel.
There are people who feel great sadness over tragedy, but who don’t alter their lifestyle in a way that would help to minimize those tragedies. There are people who get really angry about the existence of economic and environmental problems, but who don’t take any action steps towards finding solutions. There are people who feel heartbroken over poverty, but who would never touch a poor person with a ten foot pole.
Then there are those who don’t shed tears, who don’t write Facebook status updates telling everyone how upset they are, and who don’t lose sleep over the world’s problems, but who dedicate a significant portion of their lives to solving problems, creating options for people, and supporting those who suffer.
This observation isn’t an argument for the absurd conclusion that feelings are unimportant. Your emotional experiences are a significant part of your quality of life. So you would do well to manage them and process them as best as you can. But whatever you do, don’t fall into the common trap of praising people and condemning people for having different feelings than you.
Feelings are often wild and unpredictable. Some of the sanest people can feel the strangest things depending on the circumstances. In fact, if there were a universal television screen that could publicly broadcast each person’s initial thoughts and feelings after every event, we would all look crazy and irresponsible to one another.
Instead of asking people to feel the same as you, challenge yourself to withhold judgment until you see what they actually do. And instead of congratulating yourself for feeling the right emotions, hold yourself accountable to engaging in the right actions.
Never confuse emotions with ethics. Your feelings are valuable, but they aren’t the standard for virtue and vice.
T.K. Coleman is the education director for Praxis and an adjunct faculty member for the Foundation for Economic Education.