Passion in Politics

July 11, 2007

The US Democrats have discovered their feelings. Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta and the author of a new book called The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation suggests that politicians

should, for the most part, forget about issues, policies, even facts, and instead focus on feelings.

In an article in yesterday’s New York Times (free subscription required) Westen is described as wanting more passion in politics – Bill Clinton thinks it’s great so it won’t be long before the rest of the Democrats row in behind establishing their USP as the party that’s emotionally intelligent. The New York Times piece goes on to outline the rational and scientific justification for attending to emotion in political life which is awfully familiar if you’re aware of the EI industry. For the record I’m not a fan of EI – while it may be a useful tool to begin a conversation about emotion in organisations it’s still a rational instrument for the control of feelings and largely designed to manage and hide “negative” emotion. Cognitising emotion is reason not feeling and if we don’t pay attention to how feelings (and their public performance as emotion) are generated in systems then we get more “irrational” behaviour and less intelligence about what’s really going on. Organisations are emotional and emotion generating environments so feelings are valid intelligence in their own right and not experiences that should be considered toxic, dangerous or ‘out of control’.
We also need to be aware that reason and feeling are inter-related and not separate domains that exist in parallel universes…but maybe I’m getting too emotional about this stuff?