Inside Out in an emotional world

toysInside Out has been a big hit over the school holidays. For those of you who aren’t loaded with young ones (we borrowed some friends as our way of justifying seeing the film!) or weren’t young enough at heart to go alone, Inside Out is a film by Disney/Pixar directed by the same person who created Up.

The film is about Riley, an 11 year old girl who’s just been moved across America by her dad’s job. Within the story there’s a dual interplay between her real world and what goes on inside the ‘control centre’ of Riley’s mind. Here, five key emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust – interpret and shape what’s going on ‘out there.’ Since Riley’s had a happy childhood, Joy is used to being in charge and keeping things positive. That concept is challenged as the story unfolds. According to a straw poll I took amongst those who’ve seen the film, the takeaway for us all is you can’t live with only happiness and that other feelings are needed in life too. I’ll leave it at that, so as not to spoil it for any of you yet to view the film.

I’m glad to find a film which builds on aspects of our real lives instead of racing us off to fantasy. It’s positive that Inside Out attempts to portray feelings and our minds visually so we can understand ourselves better. And I had a nice little cry (I hear many adults do!) when Riley and her parents were reconciled at the end of the film. Interestingly, that’s one of the things director Pete Docter thinks rates in life:

“The thing that’s the most important to us as relationships

However, I’m concerned this film implies that the only thing we need to shape our world and behaviour choices is our feelings, and that’s how life is. Thoughts do not exist independently in the story, except as memories; which again are coloured by our associated feelings of the event we’re remembering.

The danger I see is that viewers are encouraged to give validity to all their feelings as part of life and make their choices based purely on them. Yet I’d say our culture is already overly emotional! So many of our decisions are based on what we feel at the time and what appeals in the short term. That’s why we keep voting in politicians we know nothing about, and probably how the GFC happened. It’s also why we’re obsessed with counselling, torn by relational breakdown and becoming more addicted by the decade. ‘I just don’t feel like….” or “My (anger) made me do it” is the mantra driving many, many lives.

Unfortunately, our emotions are only half the story of a healthy human. Our thoughts are the other part. Concepts such as justice, morality, care for others or discipline can’t exist without thinking. Living with only one of these elements in our control centre is like expecting someone to drive a car with the accelerator but not the brake. It’s dangerous and we’re likely to find ourselves upside down in a car wreck!

Despite my claim that we live in an emotionally biased world, some cultures don’t. Many Asian countries are very guarded, for example. And even in our world, plenty of people (especially men) lock themselves in a non-emotional zone for safety. ‘Feelings are weak, feelings are dangerous, feelings make us feel…out of control.’ So they try to force rationality and straight line logic on everyone, folding their arms or rolling their eyes at those who weep. These people are actually no closer to health than those who want to live with all feelings and no reason.

I’m not for us ignoring our emotions and shutting our feelings down. I’m for finding the healthy interplay of both our thoughts and our feelings. This study from 2011 talked about “the complementary role of rational choice in choosing emotional states.” I’m for us exploring that. When we utilise both our thoughts and our feelings to move us through life, I reckon we’re on a good path.

Rather than being a completely emotional being – or an entirely rational one – I advocate we head for the middle. Even though we probably have a pre-disposition to one of those two, let’s learn to feel deeply and then balance our choices with some good thought as well. Then, instead of being Inside Out, we might find ourselves Right Side Up!