Damn Emotions!

Have you seen “Inside Out” yet?

It’s the delightful Pixar movie portraying the conflicting emotions of an 11 year-old girl grappling with the difficulties of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco.

Indeed, the emotions are characters themselves:  Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness, and Joy.

The film’s producers consulted psychologists who wrote a piece in the New York Times saying that people generally misunderstand emotions and that the movie generally characterized emotions pretty accurately.

[E]motions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking.  Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.

But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation.  For example, studies find that when we are angry we are acutely attuned to what is unfair, which helps animate actions that remedy injustice.

Emotions bedevil law students in DR courses and the faculty who teach them.

Melissa Nelken captured this dynamic nicely in the subtitle of an article: Negotiation and Psychoanalysis: If I’d Wanted to Learn about Feelings, I Wouldn’t Have Gone to Law School, 46 J. Legal Educ. 420 (1996).   (Don’t miss the exciting sequel, with Andrea Kupfer Schneider and Jamil Mahaud, If I’d Wanted to Teach About Feelings, I Wouldn’t Have Become a Law Professor.)

I try to counteract this dynamic by assigning my negotiation students a short article by Daniel L. Shapiro, Emotions in Negotiation: Peril or Promise?, 87 Marq. L. Rev. 737 (2004).  It does a great job of explaining that people – and that includes lawyers – can’t avoid emotions and it’s dumb to try.

The psychologists writing the NYT piece argue that the central insight of the film is that we should “embrace sadness, let it unfold, [and] engage patiently with a preteen’s emotional struggles.”

And when people are in conflict, aren’t we usually operating on the emotions of preteens?

I should get a cut of the film’s profits because long ago I realized that there were competing characters inside my head.

They are Gus Gusto and Mr. Should.  Guess who usually wins?

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