Being a rational man can make you a lonely man and it can be bad for your health
Don’t get me wrong. Being rational is a good thing. Really. It’s just that being too rational can also make you really stupid.
I suppose it’s not a good idea to begin any piece of writing by being contradictory, but that’s what I have chosen to do. Rationality can be healthy, but it can also make us stupid if we habitually overindulge.
These days, it sure seems that we need more rationality. The rational mind is cousin to common sense, and we all know that there is not enough of that going around. Just look at the US Election. If there were a Common Sense party, I imagine it would do quite well.
Genuine wisdom requires both aspects of the brain: The emotional brain and the rational brain. Mike Mahler
Lately, in my counseling practice, I have dealt with a number of men who refer to themselves as rational men. It got me thinking, what do they really mean by this? Being rational is good, but can we over-do our rationality? I think that any extreme of our personality can cause problems. Whether it is being extremely rational or extremely emotional. We have all met the hyper-emotional flakes and the hyper-rational freaks. Flakes or freaks do not make for good conversators.
When we over-do our rationality, that creates a mask that we can hide behind. If you work with a “rational” male, who prides himself on being the king of rationality, here is what you will see from him:
- He likes to think he is the one who puts things into perspective
- He is always reaching for solutions, usually before he has thoroughly listened
- He creates a subtle, and often overt, sense of superiority because he is the rational one and the rest of you are mere pawns (compared to him and his shiny high-octane intellect)
- His rationality can be a mask that isolates and protects him behind a titanium shell
Rational literally means that we view life from a vantage point of fact, rather than emotions and that we are reasonable and see things clearly. How is it that fact became elevated over emotion? Or that seeing clearly is linked with raw rationality? If you consult your doctor, he or she might tell you to watch out because being rational at the expense of your emotional life is actually a clinical diagnosis, alexithymia.
The risks of having an overly rational mind
If you cannot experience emotion, you will live devoid of joy, your memories will be stunted and you will have a difficult time prioritizing decisions. Every decision will have equal weight and it will take an enormous effort to sort through each option. You will be devoid of gut feelings, first impressions or passion. You will never become angry, in love, or full of wonder. You will be prone to unhealthy decision making when it comes to your health because your emotions often guide you to make healthy decisions rather than our cold rationality. You will live detached and flat.
One article called alexithymia emotional color-blindness, which is a good description for the condition. I find it troubling that we idolize a condition that can lead to a stunting of life and flatness in our relationships. A purely rational person is flat and uninteresting. How could we ever think that a rational man is somehow a superior man?
Emotions are what give you and I color, they fill us with life. Emotions provide a balance to our intellect. The reality is that we need a healthy balance of both emotion and rationality to give us the life and the health that we want.
Being driven by our emotions or driven by our intellect can each get us into trouble. Emotions can be wildly out of control, and intellect can be wildly and unfortunately devoid of passion and humanity. When you can experience the full range of emotions, then you will be fully human, fully alive: the highs, and the lows and all of the in-betweens.
Emotions change how we experience time. Brennan Manning
For more on living an emotionless life, see the excellent BBC article, “What is it like to have never felt an emotion?” You may also want to see similar article I have written about the Type A male, Why is the Type A Persons Mental Health at Risk?
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Keep it Real
Previously published at the Good Men Project.
Photo by Georgie Pauwels