Afternoon Inquisition

AI: What to do, what to do, what to do?

A few weeks back I asked y’all about Michael Vick, redemption, and forgiveness in a public sense. It was intriguing to see how many people understood their reactions/opinions were visceral and potentially irrational (which is perfectly okay, mind) and yet stood by their non-rational emotional response. I often feel like my emotional response isn’t “enough” and that I need to pick it apart and understand what rational thing motivates me. This, friends, is an exercise in frustration and futility.

Today I am circling back to that conversation, kinda.  This time I want to know how you handle that kind of situation in your personal life, with people you actually know who have some bearing on your day-to-day goings on.

I am under no illusion that I’m friends with everybody.  I’m prickly and I know it.  I don’t try to be prickly, but I also don’t try not to be if that’s the best course of action for me.  At 41, I have at least two relationships (one very important, one hardly important) that failed due to imbalance of emotional benefit and actual work necessary to justify said emotional benefit.  I was thinking of the hardly important one today, realizing it’s similar to that Vick question in that it (now) operates so far outside of my day-to-day.  And yet, part of me feels like I should try and fix it, because … erm … yeah, I got nothin’.

The now-gone hardly important relationship was infuriating and detrimental, and yet here I’m all “but perhaps now it’s different”.  So it was irrational before, now it’s gone, and I irrationally wonder if I should work to have it back. Bah.

What happens when your emotional decision making bests your rational decision making when it matters to your own daily life?  Does every decision about friends/family/jobs have to be partly rational if you consider yourself a fairly rational being? Do I have to try and make people like me no matter what? Do I have to try and like everybody?


The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. Well, there’s rational but there’s also scientific / fact based. Rationality is relative. We all are emotional beings and when something like, say, a court case for Vick comes up, it’s not really about science, it’s about justice. Each country has its own definition and rules for justice.

    Similarly, we each have our own rulebook. I think the key is laying down a set of morals and rules for your own life before you’re faced with an emotional decision.

  2. Hrm. I struggle with this one because I can be prickly too.

    I would say that flat-out “No.” you don’t have to make every decision rationally – especially when it comes to relationships (which are predicated largely upon emotion). Whether we like it or not, we do have emotions, and when we ignore them and act like we don’t, it just makes our hair fall or sumsuch. “I’m not happy.” is the a perfectly fine reason to end a relationship.

    I’d also say no to not having to try to be likeable to everyone. As much as people like to say that you can learn something from everyone, I have found that this is not the case. At the very least, you can learn more efficiently from some people than others. Add to that that you can actually learn both bad habits and bad ways of thinking from others – and that some people make you feel bad – and I’d say it’s definitely wise to just plain cut some people off.

    You don’t even have to like other skeptics. Just like when I came out I had to learn that people don’t get my time and emotion just because they’re gay too, you don’t owe anyone anything you don’t want to give freely.

    Now, is it logical to try and speak in such a fashion that your views will get more traction? Maybe. But it can just be because you’re trying to effect a change on the other person – not because you need them to like you.

  3. My emotional well being is important to me so I make decisions accordingly in as rational a manner as I’m able or willing to. So when it comes to relationships I think it’s more than reasonable to use a cost benefit analysis, but then again being all Vulcan about your interpersonal relationships and decisions seems neither beneficial or even possible. As for Vick or anyone I guess, my hats off to people who make bad decisions and later own them, accept responsibility and make reasonable efforts to change.

  4. What happens when your emotional decision making bests your rational decision making when it matters to your own daily life?

    You get called “human”

    Does every decision about friends/family/jobs have to be partly rational if you consider yourself a fairly rational being?

    Psh, no. That’s taking the fun out of life.

    Apply rationality as needed.

    Do I have to try and make people like me no matter what? Do I have to try and like everybody?

    No. But everyone who is (more or less) innocent of hurting others and gives respect to others deserves respect and kindess.

    I feel the blatant lack of respect for other people is often why our society can be a bitter place sometimes. You don’t have to be everyone’s friend, but unnecessary meanness only breeds more meanness.

  5. Sometimes a “gut” or emotional reaction is right. On matters like deciding on a good doctor or treatment plan rationality should prevail, but on matters like whether your job or a relationship makes you happy or unhappy emotions can’t be ignored. That doesn’t mean you should act impulsively (like quit your job when you have no other income or prospects), but that those emotions should hold weight.

    I think “partially rational” is the key. I think it’s important to know why you’re making a decision and to make sure it’s the best decision for you. That doesn’t mean every decision needs hours of deliberation, but the important ones need some reasoning and understanding of why you’re making a particular choice and the consequences of your choice. And there’s a level of rationality and emotional weight to every decision that varies based on the type of decision.

    I’ve realized that it’s impossible to be likeable to everyone and while that might give me some anxiety, it’s something I have to accept. After all, I don’t necessarily automatically like everyone I meet. I might try to give them the benefit of getting to know them better before judging them or I may think it’s not worth it and try to keep my contact minimal.

    I’ve debated about relationships that I let go over the years. I have a lot of friends that I’m not longer in contact with and I wonder if I’m just a bad friend. But, I think we grew apart from each other just due to life changes. Bonds that hold people together won’t necessarily be there forever. People change. And while I miss the friendships, I can’t force a bond when it just isn’t there. By letting them go I allowed both of us to be released from expectations that no longer fit.

  6. I’m not really rational. I think at the time I’m making rational decisions – then I get a little time and distance between me and whatever situation and looking back find I was telling myself lovely stories to justify whatever decision I thought was right or emotionally wanted to make.

    As for relationships with other people, in my professional life I bend and forgive and try to work with people, in my personal life – not so much. I regularly have tantrums and kick people out of my life for good. I’m bad that way. Sometimes I regret it and try to mend things later, most times I don’t.

    Most people seem to want connection with other people and don’t really want to have much alone time, so they’re better off trying to mend fences with one another for as long as they can – or at least that’s the way it seems to me. But I’m one of those people who strongly prefers being alone, so my observations on that are possibly a bit skewed.

  7. I think every decision has to be partly rational, but very few decisions should be made with no emotional component. It’s true that you can learn something from everybody, but in some cases the main thing you can learn is to stay away from that person. Friendship, romance, and job happiness are at least as much emotional as rational, and thinking otherwise is a recipe for misery. being liked by everyone is impossible, and trying to be liked by everyone is a waste of time and energy. Trying to be honest, fair and considerate to everyone without sacrificing your own most important needs is at least attainable, and most people respect it.

  8. -“What happens when your emotional decision making bests your rational decision making when it matters to your own daily life?”

    In my case, chaos.
    And sometimes, pain.
    Quite often, it creates regret, though is has been when I completely let go of all rational thought.

    -“Does every decision about friends/family/jobs have to be partly rational if you consider yourself a fairly rational being?”

    Perhaps not. I’d judge this on a case by case basis.
    Besides, something good may come from an irrational standpoint. If not, then lesson learned. Learned such a lesson the hard way (sort of) myself recently.

    -“Do I have to try and make people like me no matter what? Do I have to try and like everybody?”

    No and no.
    Such a thing would be impossible, as not everyone would have viewpoints compatible with your own.

    I say it’s more of a matter of quality VS quantity.
    One may have few friends, but they would be the very best friends to have.
    I think that’s more important than trying to like everybody.

  9. So the take home so far is kind of good news/bad news.

    Good news? Seems like I don’t have to work on my Spock-like demeanor. Bad news: that doesn’t make the emotional decisions any easier. And it does look like those are here to stay.

    But the best news is that I always somehow feel better talking things out, even if it’s online like this. I know that’s not really news at all for social creatures, but thanks just the same.

  10. As tempting as it is to say that making emotional decisions is bad, and rational decisions is good, some things are just more based on emotion than pure logic. But I think there’s a problem with the way you’ve framed the questions- the way the questions are framed implies that ‘rational’ and ’emotional’ are necessarily separate.

    People do things because they feel good. That’s an emotional response. But feeling happy is a desirable result. So doing things that make you feel good is also a rational response.

    Obviously people get angry, and tired, and then rationality tends to go out the window in favour of emotional reactions, but there’s no reason to necessarily consider the two as opposing forces.

  11. What do I do? Why, I rationalize, of course!

    A favorite scene from “The Big Chill”

    Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

    Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

    Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

  12. @”A” I don’t quite know why but this came strongly into my mind when reading your questions:

    “Never make an enemy” and “Always keep your options open”

    Probably inspired by your last two questions. I know it sounds a bit trite, but these are probably good long term life strategies.

    As far as possible, of course! Perhaps I could have applied these aphorisms better and earlier in some cases.

  13. I was physically assaulted by someone I called at the time my best friend and his girlfriend because of my religious views. I haven’t spoken to him since and it’s been almost two years, but not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.

    Not a damn thing rational about it, yet I’m toying with the idea f reaching out to him to see if the relationship can be salvaged.

    We’re funny creatures A.

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