RBPEA: Feelings are facts

“You can’t feel that! You don’t feel that! You shouldn’t feel that! You have no right to feel that!” All of which stridently ignores the fact that we do indeed feel that…

Let’s be clear about this: feelings are facts. We each feel what we feel: and nothing in itself is going to change that fact – or that each feeling is itself a fact in its own right. The feelings themselves may be highly transitory, here one moment, gone the next: but whilst they’re present, they are fact. Yes, feelings are different from so-called ‘objective’ facts – feelings are personal-fact, subjective-fact, not ‘objective’-fact – yet they are fact nonetheless, with all that that implies.

We have no control over those feelings as such: our feelings simply are, whether we like that fact or not. We do have some choice about how we respond to those feelings – hence ‘responsibility’, as ‘response-ability’ – but no choice over the existence of the feelings themselves: that distinction may seem subtle, but crucially important.

We might choose to ignore a feeling, or pretend that we don’t have a particular feeling: many do just that, of course, often for much of their lives.

We might choose to over-react to a feeling: many do that too.

We might also pretend to have a specific feeling when we actually don’t: probably just about everyone does that from time to time, particularly for others’ benefit.

And we might assert that the presence of a feeling provides us with an excuse for action or inaction, that “I had no choice” or suchlike – which yes, may feel that way, though in reality isn’t actually true.

To a very real extent, our feelings define who we are. And pretending that we don’t have them – or being forced to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have them – can cause very real damage to our sense of self, and thence to our relations with self and others in a social context.

(Hence why common gender-stereotypes such as “women don’t think, men don’t feel” are a lot more dangerous than they might at first seem. The social assumption that women only feel, without any power to choose their own responses to how they feel, is not only insulting, but damaging too; whilst the social assumption that men don’t have feelings at all – or that whatever feelings they might have may be safely ignored – is arguably even more damaging all round. Oops…)

Hence why a phrase such as “You can’t feel that!” is often worse than meaningless: feelings are facts, what we feel is what we feel, regardless of what we or others might say about it.

Hence why a phrase such as “You don’t feel that!” is often worse than meaningless: it’s true that we might not sense something – because of deafness, or inattention, or damage to nerve-endings or whatever – but what we feel is what we feel.

Hence why a phrase such as “You shouldn’t feel that!” is not only often worse than meaningless, it’s often highly abusive too: a demand that we ‘must’ do something that we inherently cannot do – and usually only for the complainer’s benefit, too, so that they don’t have to face feelings that they do not wish to face.

And hence also why a phrase such as “You have no right to feel that!” is not only often worse than meaningless, and often highly abusive too, but in direct breach of one of the most fundamental corollaries of the non-negotiable basics upon which any RBPEA must be built: that there are no rights in the first place, that the entire concept of ‘rights’ is in itself inherently misleading and mistaken. Responsibilities, yes – or, more specifically, interlocking mutual responsibilities within a social context – but ‘rights’, no. Not A Good Idea…

(And especially ‘Not A Good Idea’ when the real meaning of “You have no right to feel that!’ is that the complainer merely wants the ‘right’ to not have to deal with the fact that we do indeed feel that way: abusive indeed…)

In much the same way, beliefs are facts too. We each believe what we believe: and nothing in itself is going to change that fact. The beliefs themselves may be somewhat transitory, changing over time: but whilst they’re present, they are fact. Yes, beliefs are different from so-called ‘objective’ facts – beliefs are personal-fact, subjective-fact, not ‘objective’-fact – yet fact nonetheless, with all that that implies.

We have no direct control over those beliefs as such, not least because our beliefs are deeply interwoven with what we feel – whether we acknowledge those feelings or not. In that sense, our beliefs simply are, whether or not we like that fact. We do have some choice about how we respond to those beliefs – hence ‘responsibility’, as ‘response-ability’. And we do also have choice, and responsibility, about how we review and reassess and refresh our beliefs, in response to other facts from the ‘real-world’ and social-world. It’s generally wise to maintain a strong habit of continual reassessment of our beliefs, in response to real-world evidence – though we do need to be wary of the trap of ‘policy-based evidence‘, of Gooch’s Paradox that ‘things not only have to be seen to be believed, but also also have to be be believed to be seen’. Yet the key point here is that we have no choice as such over the existence of the beliefs themselves, at the time that we hold those respective beliefs – a distinction that may seem somewhat subtle, but crucially important.

We might choose to ignore a belief that we hold, or pretend that we don’t have a particular belief: many do just that, of course, often for much of their lives.

We might choose to over-react to a belief: many do that too.

We might also pretend to have a specific belief when we actually don’t: probably just about everyone does that from time to time, particularly for others’ benefit.

And we might assert that the presence of a belief provides us with an excuse for action or inaction, that “I had no choice” or suchlike – which yes, may feel that way, but actually isn’t true.

To a very real extent, our beliefs define who we are. And pretending that we don’t have them – or being forced to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have them – can cause very real damage to our sense of self, and thence to our relations with self and others in a social context.

Hence why a phrase such as “You can’t believe that!” is often worse than meaningless: beliefs are facts, what we believe is what we believe, almost regardless of what we or others might say about it.

Hence why a phrase such as “You don’t believe that!” is often worse than meaningless: it’s true that we might not sense something – because of deafness, or inattention, or damage to nerve-endings or whatever – but what we feel is what we feel, and hence, in turn, what we believe is what we believe. For now, at any rate.

Hence why a phrase such as “You shouldn’t believe that!” is not only often worse than meaningless, it’s often highly abusive too: a demand that we ‘must’ do something that we inherently cannot do – and usually only for the complainer’s benefit, too, so that they don’t have to face feelings or doubts that they do not wish to face.

And hence also why a phrase such as “You have no right to believe that!” is not only often worse than meaningless, and often highly abusive too, but in direct breach of the fundamental basics upon which any RBPEA must be built: in this case, that there are no rights, that the entire concept of ‘rights’ is in itself inherently misleading and mistaken. Responsibilities, yes – or, more specifically, interlocking mutual responsibilities within a social context – but ‘rights’, no. Not A Good Idea…

(And especially ‘Not A Good Idea’ when the real meaning of “You have no right to believe that!’ is that the complainer merely wants the ‘right’ to not have to deal with the fact that we do indeed feel and believe that way. Abusive indeed – though very, very common…)

Which brings us to a related corollary, that religion and spirituality are personal facts, because they are grounded in what we believe, and what we feel, in context of our own relationship in and with the wider world. Our choices and experience around religion and spirituality provide ‘personal truths’ upon which we each base our understanding – such as it may be – of personal purpose and personal existence, and thence some of the core drivers for personal choices.

This sense of it being a personal matter, a ‘personal-fact’, also aligns well with another of the core fundamentals for RBPEA, that the only absolute rule is that there are no absolute rules.

Yet this is where things can get more than a bit tangled…

Cultures of all kinds – national, social, corporate, whatever – are riddled with assertions that we must feel or must believe the same as they do, in order to belong in and to that culture. Likewise we ourselves will find, all too often, that we’re attempting to impose our own beliefs on others: that they must feel or must believe the same as we do – often not only regardless of any evidence, but sometimes in spite of the absence of any evidence, that the absence of evidence is itself ‘proof’ that the belief is ‘the Truth’. Not A Good Idea… None of it is a good idea, at all: it’s inherently abusive, if not actively-violent in many cases. But very, very common…

Once we understand, though, that religion and spirituality are personal-facts, it becomes much easier to identify when that type of abuse is happening, or at risk of happening. This infographic, via Paula Yankelove, provides a useful checklist on this:

(Note that we do need to switch the descriptions around a bit above, to sidestep the ‘rights’ delusion: hence not so much ‘religious liberties violated’, as ‘someone attempting to avoid their own responsibilities by imposing their choices on others’. Once we make that adjustment, though, it is a good illustration of the types of distinctions about which we need to be aware here.)

Shared-religion, shared-spirituality, shared-beliefs and shared-feelings – though the latter always in the form of real-empathy, not pseudo-empathy – are all essential elements for social cohesion. Yet we need to be aware that religions of any kind cannot and must not be imposed or enforced upon anyone: human-reality simply does not work that way. (By the way, those inherent constraints on enforced-universality of religions also applies to quasi-religions such as the myths of ‘economic-growth’, the purported primacy of ‘science’, or the social-religion of shopping – and even atheism too, for that matter.) That paradox of ‘the only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths’ does not leave us any wriggle-room on that point. Instead, we need to be clear that:

  • feelings are personal-facts
  • beliefs are personal-facts
  • religion and spirituality are personal-facts

And especially at the RBPEA scale, any architecture that attempts to ignore those facts will fail: simple as that, really.

You Have Been Warned?

Practical implications for enterprise-architecture

Misplaced assumptions and misunderstandings about feelings and beliefs, and even about religion and spirituality, are so rampant even in mainstream enterprise-architectures that it’s often hard to know where to begin. What makes it worse – or harder to deal with, rather – is that such assumptions are so deeply embedded that it’s often difficult to even recognise them as assumptions.

The blunt reality is that many of things we see as ‘facts’, or ‘the way things are’ or suchlike, are merely our own interpretations that we’re arbitrarily attempting to impose on others – and often blame them when they don’t match up to our expectations. Oops… – Not A Good Idea…

You probably take some pride in ensuring that your architectures are properly grounded in objective-fact – but have you taken enough account of subjective-fact as well? To give some practical examples:

  • To what extent does your architecture assume that the terms you use will be understood by others in the same way that you do?
  • To what extent does your architecture assume that customers or system-users are employees will hold the same beliefs as you do, or will have the same feelings as you expect?
  • To what extent does your architecture depend on others holding specific feelings or beliefs – whether overt or not?
  • To what extent does your architecture depend on others being willing to accept that your beliefs (or your organisation’s shared-beliefs) should have inherent automatic priority over theirs?

If you’re like most architects that I know, that bullet-list just above could well be something of a scary wake-up call…

Another key cross-check to warn of such design-errors in an existing architecture is to watch out for anticlients – people within the same broader shared-enterprise who disagree intensely, and often viscerally, with your organisation’s choices and actions within that enterprise.

The source of the clash may be about deep-beliefs – about provision of family-planning services, for example, or oil-exploration in ecologically-sensitive areas. Or it may be from a more personal sense of betrayal – personal feelings about poor customer-service, a perception of having been ripped-off, lied-to, mistreated, disrespected, all manner of feelings like that. Either way, the mistake that so many organisations make, time and time again, is to fail to recognise that feelings are facts – and need to be addressed as facts, whether or not we ourselves hold the same beliefs about those subjective-facts. The phrase ‘Perception is reality’ is one that we need to watch carefully here… – in every aspect of our architectures, and their implementation and operation.

In effect, anticlients are antibodies: their presence anywhere in our business-context is a direct warning that some part of our architecture is failing to take proper account of subjective-fact. Take those warnings seriously, and treat the need for appropriate response and redesign as an urgent architectural concern: failure to do so can create a high risk not only that the architecture will fail, but potentially the whole organisation as well. In other words, not something to ignore…

Hope this is useful, anyway: comments welcome as usual, of course.

Posted in Complexity / Structure, Enterprise architecture, Futures, Power and responsibility, Society Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
One comment on “RBPEA: Feelings are facts
  1. Darryl Carr says:

    Thanks Tom. I appreciate you expressing your thoughts on these matters. From my own perspective, I’m trying hard to reduce the number of assumptions I make every day, and some of those can be found in your list above. The main issue I face in doing so, is the sheer number of assumption that I, and most people around me, make every single day.

    What I find difficult in terms of the proposal you make in this article, is that because we deal with so many people every day, each with their own history, beliefs and feelings, that gaining consensus on any given point would become very difficult. Even with my current tendency toward minimising assumptions, and reducing my preconceived ideas of what people think, know or feel, I find it necessary to produce solutions that will never be suitable (or understood) from all points of view, and in some circumstances, they may not be understood from ANY given perspective.

    I have to say that I felt that I recognised a number of the points you were making above, and have long been a proponent of the concept that perception is reality. I’ve also always been willing to accept that “everything is my fault”, not as a form of self-persecution, but because we must take responsibility for our own realities, and some of those realities interact with the realities of others. If we are to really accept these realities, we must accept that they are a product of our own thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions, even if we don’t fully understand those things at that point in time.

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