Free Speech and Negative Feelings
This morning on CBC radio two back-to-back stories reminded me of why our work here at the Green Light Institute is so important. The first was about a recent research study that ‘proves’ it is better to vent negative emotions rather than suppressing them. “This is news?” I thought to myself, having heard this misunderstanding for years. In fact this is precisely why, 25 years ago, I dedicated my career to joining the psychology of mindfulness with western methods of psychotherapy. In the mindfulness tradition we don’t simply label emotions as positive or negative. Some painful emotions, when vented, clear the air and improve situations, and we call these ‘green light emotions’. Others, which we call ‘red light emotions’ cause nothing but harm. When communication is closed, no-one benefits. In-between are emotions that make us feel incredibly vulnerable and anxious, and we call these ‘yellow light’. Distinguishing between open and closed communication is more useful than labelling emotions positive or negative. I keep wondering when these expensive research studies will catch up with the wisdom of these ancient ways of understanding the mind.
The second story on the radio was similar, though it pulls on different strings in me. It is about free speech and the right to propogate hate. Civil libertarians ( this is a label that I’ve often identified with) protect the right to propogate homophobia in the name of religion. Not emotional venting per se, but now we’re talking about the venting of toxic ideas. What comes to my mind is that we can create all kinds of rules and regulations to determine the outer limits of what is acceptable in our society, but are we missing the point? Is there a parallel between venting hatred, whether in the form of ‘negative emotions’ or toxic ideas , and polluting the earth, the water, the air? How do we protect the goodness of our society? Beyond regulating oil spills, most of us are interested in life-style change to reduce the pollution in our neighborhoods. And doing the same for our relationships, both at home and at work, is what mindful communication is all about.
In December we’re offering an on-line class called Alone-Together: The Seasons Of Mindful Relationship. Here we’ll explore the difference between ‘mindless-heart’, the view that we can vent our emotions indiscriminately, and heartless-mind, the notion that ‘free-speech’ justifies causing harm to others. Please join us to continue the conversation, if you like. See you then.