Negative emotions and moral assessment

I was catching up on sleep on a very lazy Saturday. However I awoke and got out of bed because I had a mindmap in my head. Yes, I’ve started to absolutely nuts with mindmapslately.

The question that was running through my mind was on the attributions to the motives of other people in their influence upon a positive event that occurs to one’s self. I know, my brain just froze typing that out. The scenario my sleeping mind had was that a person comes across an iPad 2 that is for free. BOOM! Instant positive emotion. But what if it was known that another person had intercepted the money, enough for a free iPad 3, and took a cut of the purchasing money for it, leaving only enough to buy the iPad 2? What would the lucky person getting the iPad 2 feel?

This is an important consideration in ethics and morality. Philosophers sometimes like to think that ethics is a rational realm and that the emotions are a hinderance to people living in better harmony, and so on. Yet our attributions of other’s motives is a huge part of one’s rationalizing our own ethics, much less our own internal emotional landscape. Working with returning veterans and others who have issues dealing with anger I see that a great amount of their anger, anxiety, stress, and other things that seriously hurt their quality of life, are some basic assumptions and attributions about the world.

Anger In Positive Events

Here is my mindmap that was in my dreaming mind. Well, actually there was a much more complicated one that I’ve been unable to reproduce. It is still fuzzy. I might add that this is nothing new, others have said all this before, and this is overly simplistic. Saying that, often times our reasoning on an event is overly simplistic and beholden completely to emotional states. I refer to the people that I work with who are having issues in living a good life because they are always angry.

In our earlier example, if we did not know that the iPad 2 was less than it could (read: SHOULD) have been, we are likely to reflect on the fact that we are better off now than we were prior. If we realize that someone has limited it then it is automatic for the people that I work with to assume that its reason was negative. Here we see an obvious error in my mindmap in that there should be two additional choices after someone limit it because it is possible that we know someone is taking a necessary administrative cut from a prize, or the like. Again, this is in regards to working with individuals that routinely live in a world of anger and frustration. It is assumed that everyone else’s motives are hostile to one’s own well-being.

It is part of the Self Serving Bias, which when working with the Confirmation Bias are absolutely poisonous to a person’s well being. They find that they are frustrated every day, live in a cloud of anger, and the joy of life seems transient and unlikely.

The first was on positive events, the world, however, is filled with things that are negative.

Emotions In Negative Events

The above is a simplistic representation also. What I see in clients is that if they assume the negative event to be unavoidable then they often feel as though they have no control and instead of feeling calm they feel helpless which engenders hopelessness which leads to depression and isolation. Ask veterans who are having a rough transition and who are also trying to gain needed benefits from the VA (of which is is quite common to have 18 months of waiting and unknown statuses) how they feel. Either the system is trying to screw them and they are very angry, or there is nothing they can do about it and they give up and feel helpless.


Bob was running late for work and had to hit the red lights in traffic just right. He was at the last intersection, the light was soon to turn yellow, and the car in front of him had to make a right turn down the street. Bob was stuck behind the car, waiting in frustration, as the car in front of him put on its blinker and waited. Bob, gripping the steering wheel, look into the crosswalk and saw a teenager casually walking through the crosswalk (legally), holding up the car waiting to turn which was holding up Bob from making it through the intersection. Bob watched as the traffic signal turned to red. He was already late and he glared at the lazy, inconsiderate teenager who didn’t care about other people and caused Bob to be late for work.

Of note here is that nowhere in this reaction to negative events is anything positive nor is there anything that is neutral or calm. In fact is is quite likely that something negative leads to either depression or anger. What I do not show here is that men typically do not show depression along the usual signs but instead manifest it outwardly as anger. Now flash forward to veterans who are having a rough time transitioning back from deployment. Dollars to donuts their number one state of mind is anger. I know well how easy anger fills one’s entire day. This is not the diagram of a resilient person.

Now here is another dimension to it. The first fork in the chart above, is it known to be avoidable is much of the time a mystery. Yet an assumption by many of us, perpetuated by movies and feel-good t.v. shows is the core belief that the good guys win and the bad guys lose that bad things don’t happen to good people or if they do there is a reason for everything. That “everything happens for a reason” is one of the most dangerous assertions that cross the social blogosphere. You’ve seen the pictures on FB. What this does is opens up Pangloss’ Best of All Possible Worlds. Pangloss, as is seen on various websites on the internet, is seen as an optimist. It should bear mentioning that Pangloss is certainly not an optimist at all but deluded. Optimism, what it truly is, is greatly misunderstood by people who cannot get outside of their frame of mind that is beholden to the above chart.

What good is telling someone who experienced terrible trauma that this is “the best of all possible worlds” or “this happened for a reason”?

I know what some naysayers are saying right now and I’m going to head you off at the pass. There is a difference between a ‘reason’ and ‘meaning’. The truth is that the universe has predictability and chaos. In other words, there is no reason at all that tragedy befell you other than it did. God did not smite a person who’s house was hit by a tornado. There are quite a number of churches hit by tornados.

Here is a chart showing more options.

There is more to add to this, some aspects to aid in helping cope and be resilient. However I will end this for now and revisit it later.


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