Emotionally informed consent and dissent.

I find great benefit in letting my mind and spirit linger on some matters, gathering information, thinking about the matters through the lenses of that information, and, in good time, coming to a decision about how they affect me, if at all, and what I shall do about the events and their effects.

This applies to my feelings about local gun violence, extreme communications in partisan politics, grieving the future because of global warming and the newly re-arrived politics of eternity (a later blog), the deaths or sufferings of people I know, an unkind word or slight by a friend, colleague, or acquaintance, all the usual things which impact everyone’s life.

Internalizing things for a while may not be good for my physical health, and may seem odd to others.  But I believe there is value in letting things that bother me seep into my soul, and stay there for a while. I let them upset my stomach or whatever, and then eventually work their way out, the way worries and grief do.  This gives suitable time and attention to the matter, taking it seriously, looking it over from every point, seeing whether recognizing its importance ought to affect my actions or attitudes.  It provides opportunity to be honest with myself and with the Divine (prayer – sharing my thoughts with the Divine — is often involved).  The bother itself eventually goes away by one means or another, but I think it helps me be a fuller person to have taken the time to give its due.

Many people, however, perhaps most, try to put aside such feelings about their concerns (even grief) and pay attention only if unavoidable.  They are busy and must be able to get on with things.  I understand that, and respect it in them, but I really believe that adopting my way would benefit them as well. Eventually my feelings and thoughts will be sorted out (the body and the subconscious know how to do that), and will help me move along the next roads.  But on the way I will have gathered information, examined that information with my emotions and my intellect, probably talked with others who have feelings about these events, and then I will decide what meaning these events have for my life.  That, too, is informed consent or perhaps informed dissent.

I wonder, however, about decision makers such as politicians and business people, who talk about “making the tough decisions.”  I wonder what they mean, and whether they consider deeply the emotional impact upon the people who feel the effects of those decisions, and upon themselves.  I wonder whether the business person who “regrets” layoffs or pension reductions, or the politician who announces benefit cuts for the poor, has an intuitive understanding of the effects.  I wonder whether such a person has “been there,” i.e., has been in the kind of situation which is now affected.  I wonder whether that person spends any time being with affected people in their daily lives.

I read (for example, The New Urban Crisis:  How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class– and What We Can Do About It, by Richard L. Florida) that  higher-level decision-makers in business are much likelier to live in neighbourhoods among only people like themselves, in contrast to the 1950s where managers were quite likely to live next door to, or in a street close to, the employees.  Thus they are unlikely to understand intuitively the effects of their “tough decision.” Perhaps they volunteer in a foodbank or visit lonely people in hospitals or nursing homes, or are very active in charitable and community-service groups, and so spend time with people affected.  Perhaps these experiences lead them to diminish harsh effects, showing that they do understand the “tough” quality of their decisions.  They understand what the feelings of affected people are; they understand what their own feelings do to their own concept of themselves.

I know from long volunteer activity in politics at all levels that many politicians have never had other careers, and therefore have not themselves been affected by such decisions.  They may have good and thorough experience being among those who affected, and may have thereby breathed in the atmosphere and feelings which surrounds people in difficult circumstances.  But I also know that, being people of their own means and not as subject to circumstances as the people they affect, no matter how empathetic, they can’t quite feel the consequences as do people who haven’t such resources:  it’s one thing to hand out food at a local foodbank while knowing a fine dinner awaits you at home, but quite another to receive it as your only substance for perhaps a week.

So I doubt that the “toughness” of the decisions has quite the same meaning for the deciders as for those affected.  Those who make no efforts to be among the affected, cannot possibly understand the “toughness” of their decisions, and deserve no credit or warm thoughts for their willingness to make such decisions.  If they have no empathy at all, they deserve scorn for presuming to make such decisions, and for claiming credit for their “toughness.”

This is a different kind of informed consent, in which the decision-maker intuits the effect of a potential decision, and then consents.  It is probably not feasible to require that, for example, a social services minister come from life circumstances which will be affected by his or her decisions.  So, efforts to spend time with affected people, rather than just with advisers and “experts,” would be highly respectable, and would give validity, because of this informed consent, to the claim of “tough decisions.”  That would be wonderful for democracy.

In a democracy, making decisions too easily, without understanding and empathy for those affected, is destructive.  Warding off harm from decisions should be done not only by critics, but by the very gut of the decision maker.  Such actions should diminish the willingness to make the next “tough” decision. These are the values of emotionally informed consent.

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