The Illusion of "Reason", and Accepting Emotions

by Robert Harvie October 05, 2012


In this election season, emotions often run high, as supporters of Democrats and Republicans seek to vie for public support of their “team”.

We turn on the television to see Jon Stewart or Bill O’Reilly staking out their position as the “reasoned” view of public interest, and, as bright and well-spoken as both of them are, neither is likely to convince the other that they are “wrong” any time soon.

Remind you of anyone?

Our collaborative clients, perhaps?

Intelligent, sincere people who often become embroiled in positions of “righteousness” that are seemingly set in cement.   The proverbial “irresistible force meeting an immovable object.”

And what do we do, in response to these situations? Most often, we seek to appeal to reason.

But, what if our faculty of “reason” is somewhat of an illusion? 

In "The Righteous Mind", Jonathan Haidt suggests that often we very strongly attach to certain positions and beliefs based upon an impression that those beliefs are fully supported by unassailable "reason".

But we might be kidding ourselves.

Haidt suggests, quite strongly, that in fact, we are most likely to develop our positions and beliefs based upon our emotional reactions, and we only THEN engage our reason, not to examine those positions, but to SUPPORT them.

What does this have to do with Collaborative work?

I would recommend to Collaborative professionals and our clients the opening quotation in  Haidt's book:

“I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.” 

—Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus, 1676

Our effort, perhaps, is not simply assume that cold reason can lead our clients to reasonable outcomes.  Our effort, if we adopt Haidt’s suggestion, is to help our clients understand that their own reason, possibly, is suspect, and that before they embark upon an analysis of possible outcomes, it might be very helpful to assure that they UNDERSTAND their spouse’s actions and feelings.

A difficult task?  Perhaps.

But often some roll-reversal can work marvels.

“Imagine yourself in your wife’s position.”

“How would you feel if YOU were made this proposal?”

Beyond that – helping the clients acknowledge strong emotions and feelings on certain subjects can, at the same time, help them understand that those emotions, possibly, are getting in the way.

While Haidt’s work is aimed at assisting in the reduction of political polarization, his comments also resonate with those of use who are tasked with reducing the personal polarization of our clients:

“We may spend most of our waking hours advancing our own interests, but we all have the capacity to transcend self-interest and become simply a part of a whole. It’s not just a capacity; it’s the portal to many of life’s most cherished experiences"

Help guide our clients to understand that they do have common interests.  That it is important not to be blinded to their own vision of  a “rational position”.  That if they want to be understood, perhaps it is incumbent upon them to FIRST understand the other, and to express that understanding  and in doing so, two things will happen.

First, they might, just might, develop an emotional appreciation for where the other person is standing.

And Secondly, they might, just might, establish a little bit of trust to help the other person understand them.

Then, having done that... perhaps reason can step in to assist.


Add comment

  • Comment
  • Preview


The Bigger Conversation

Be a part of the conversation! Learn about the latest thoughts, trends and developments in Collaborative Practice from IACP’s Brain Trust, and then join the discussion with other members across the globe. This is your opportunity to be heard; share your experience, knowledge and insights with the rest of us. We’ll all benefit.

Our Featured Bloggers will rotate over time. If you are interested in becoming a Featured Blogger and posting regularly, please contact us at We also welcome periodic submissions from Guest Bloggers. If you have a post to share as a guest, please send your post to us at



Month List