I have discovered over my many years of life that there are a few things that bother me. One, in particular, has bothered me more than others over the past thirty years. You may ask of me, “What could that be?” Well, I’m glad you asked!
What bothers me is that people in the USA continuously use the phrase “I feel like …” followed by some statement that is more of an opinion or other thought or statement rather than anything to do with emotions.
In my study of the English language, the word “feel” has always meant an expression of one emotions or emotional-driven ideas. Here’s an example: “I feel fine,” or “I feel hurt.” The word “feel” needs a direct modifier that relates to one’s emotions or “feelings.”
Then there’s the word “like.” That word should always be followed by an equal/parallel comparison to what comes before. For example, “That guy’s running style is like my brother’s walking style: weird.”
But here’s what I have often heard way too often: “I feel like John is not doing a good job,” or similar wording. But what they mean to say is, “I believe that John is not doing a good job,” or perhaps more accurately: “It is my opinion John is not doing a good job.” Although the speaker may have a particular emotional response to John’s work, the speaker is only expressing an opinion. He may have factual data for his view. But the person is only expressing thoughts or opinions, not emotions.
Here is what should have said, “I feel sad because I see that John has not been doing a good job based on his poor record.”
So, why do we tend to change a statement of opinion into a statement of emotional response? Well, In my opinion, an interesting phenomenon has occurred over the past thirty years that has become a major complicating factor in our language usage.
During the late 1980s, America saw a resurgence of interest in psychology and sociology through what we refer to today as the self-help movement. Tons of books filled the shelves of bookstores on such topics as “How to take care of yourself,” “How to be a better you,” etc. One of the major emphases of these books was a recognition of the importance of owning one’s own “feelings” or emotions.
Here’s the argument behind these assertions: If you express your emotions or “feelings,” then no one can argue with you. Other people do not know what you are feeling inside. They can only see the results. So, if you say, “I am sad,” no one can argue with you. The only possible thing they can say is, “No, you don’t.” And, of course, that would be absurd. Logical discussion cannot exist because of the element of emotion; logic and rationality are dismissed as irrelevant.
The logic behind this argument seemed flawless except for one overlooked and obvious problem: The human brain. Allow me to explain.
The human brain has a unique ability to twist ideas to its benefit. The brain can literally tell itself a lie, then turn around and believe every word of the lie. This statement may sound absurd on the face of it. But, if you, the reader, were truly honest with yourself, you would be compelled to agree with me. Remember that when I say “the brain,” I’m talking about the person.
Think about this. How many times have you believed something to be true then later find out that is wasn’t true. You would admit your mistake and then change your thinking about it. Right?
However, consider the following: Let’s say you deeply believed that you were a worthless person. Then someone came along and told you that you had worth, that you were simply a human being who makes mistakes. But your mistakes never make you a bad person. It only means you are human. Your first response would be to think the other person is only talking about themselves, not you.
Please believe me when I say that the above event happens many hundreds of times every day. The reason we as humans have trouble accepting other people’s “opinions” is that we have chosen (for whatever reason—and there could be millions of reasons—you have chosen to believe that you are worthless. What you have said to yourself is, “I feel worthless.” So, since you framed it in the form of an emotion, no one can argue with you. You “feel” that you are worthless.
The problem with this type of thinking is that your mind has convinced you to believe a lie. The statement “I feel worthless” is an incorrect statement, not because it is not true but rather because you worded it incorrectly. In reality, the thought, “I feel worthless” is an expression of an opinion, not an emotion. The proper wording should be I BELIEVE I am worthless.
Perhaps you think that I am the crazy one. Well, I’m not going to argue that point. Then again, that is an opinion—it is incorrect, but still an opinion.
The brain has tricked your mind into thinking “feeling worthless” is an emotion; therefore, no one can really argue with me. Thus, I must be worthless. When in reality, your brain has told you a lie using your knowledge against you. You believe “feeling worthless” is an expression of an emotion and unarguable. But, the assumption that worthless is an emotion is where the lie stands.
The truth is that “worthless” is not an emotion but an opinion. It is an opinion with no facts to back it up. Therefore, it must be a worthless opinion, or it is an incorrect opinion. Either way, the opinion of being worthless is up for debate. And the debate against “being worthless” is far stronger than any debate in favor.
But, what happens is that once your brain recognizes that your thoughts of worthlessness are baseless opinions, your brain opens up to the possibility that you are not worthless but truly worth others’ love and respect. The brain can handle logic. The brain has trouble handling a statement that appears false on the surface to be worth the time and effort to consider.
So, if you identify an opinion, or even a logical assumption, to be emotions, the brain moves that assumption into the sector of unarguable understandings. Thus the statement becomes a permanent part of your belief system. And that is the part of the brain that drives everything you do, think, and say. But, if you identify something as an opinion, your brain will allow it to be questioned and maybe even changed—if you so desire it so.
The human brain is an amazing organ that is almost endless in its potential for adaptation and change. The part that fascinates me is the brain’s ability to be trained in one way and later can overcome anything it deems as no longer necessary. I have witnessed changes and alterations in people that some would say was miraculous. Events like that reinforce my belief in an almighty God.
What am I talking about here? I am not reflecting on human traits that are controlled by our DNA or the elements like our lymphatic and respiratory systems. I write of those areas that are malleable such as our emotional responses, our opinions, and our rational thought processes. No one can change those elements about you.
However, If you want to change your opinion of someone, that person can’t stop you. They can offer you reasons and evidence that you should not. But, no one can force you to change your opinions. You may say you’ve changed your mind to convince that person to think you have. But your opinion may not change unless you decide to change.
But there is a small rock in the shoe of the brain, and this is your self-will. No one can stop you from changing your mind. And, no one can make you change your mind, either. Your mind is under your control; no one else’s. Your response may be, “But I can’t change the way I am.” But you know you can if you wanted to.
Now, here I must stop and remind you that much of what I say is, of course, my opinion. But it is my opinion based on years of study, research, and observation as a teacher. If I learned anything from my forty years in the classroom is that I cannot teach anyone anything. A teacher can only offer motivation and opportunity for the persons in the classroom to learn if they want to.
Even here in this article, all I can do is offer you a few facts and a lot of opinions. It is up to you to accept or reject or (maybe?) consider what is here. Hopefully, I have convinced you to be open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and an opportunity to consider the possibilities I have presented.
Thank you for the opportunity to share a few thoughts you may wish to ponder.
Herb Sennett writes about life and how to enjoy it more.