Telephone Poles, love and processing emotions

There is a wonderful scene, involving lamp posts – or perhaps telephone poles – which I wish to consider. I think this was originally thought up by C.S. Lewis, or perhaps by another, but I think I learned it through Lewis’ use of it, though I can’t for the life me find the specific reference again, so perhaps I remember wrong.

Anyway, the scene is to consider yourself in a field full of telephone, or perhaps lamp posts is better since they provide light. If you picture yourself right up next to one, so you can reach out and touch it, and look up at it, how massive it is! How bright is its light? If you tried to wrap your arms around it, maybe they would just barely be able to touch around the back, or maybe not even that – it depends a little bit on how you imagine these poles. If it is night time, and you can see clearly, it is by the light from this near pole.  Perhaps there are gaps between the poles as you look out, or perhaps just places where shadows grow darker and lighter, but right under this light, it is as bright as anywhere and it is clearly from the light of that pole you can reach out and touch. In some sense, it can appear as the only light- without it, you would not be able to see your hand, at least not as clearly. Of course, the other lights – whether you imagine them to be carbon copies of the light pole, or perhaps light poles of a wide variety of shapes and sizes – give off a similar light. Maybe some brighter, and some darker. Some wider, and some more focused, but also similar. The light from one is not “better” than the light from another, it is only closer. The one responsible for allowing you to see your hand isn’t the brightest, it isn’t the largest, it doesn’t have some magical mix of these to be just right, it is simply closest.

Although I am admittedly of ill-experience and by all accounts far from an expert on ‘falling in love’, I think there is a certain basic understanding of the process that parallel this well, and may be useful to consider to help embellish on some wisdom I find in this process. The transition of topic is easy to make, instead of light imagine that the poles radiate beauty ( perhaps there are elements of protection, or meaning, or validation, or whatever else is sought after in a partner – if one of these speaks to you more, use it instead. For me, ‘beauty’ is the word that best fits so long as it is the beauty that is a ‘sign of something intrinsically good’ rather than just a shallow aesthetic meaning of correct proportions, etc. ). And instead of poles, imagine that they are women (or men if you prefer). Considering the metaphor, it is easy to identify a certain ‘false virtue’ of closeness that is attributed to those we are close to. It is easy to see how this translates into a emotional counter-argument to ‘There are more fish in the see’. Perhaps that counter argument has some weight to it and there are very legitimate reasons to argue for their extraordinary suitability as a partner, but this is a little aside the point at hand. The metaphor is simplistic for sure, but I think it highlights an important Truth to be aware of. Considering this image of could be lovers and beauty, it is easy to see how the very act of drawing close to someone makes them appear as superior among equals. Even more so, it communicates the loss of comfort and the uneasiness required to transition between lights – especially if they light poles are spaced such that there is a darkness between them, the comfort of the light may be left entirely to enjoy the light of another light pole.

Now, I’m not sure of the particular conclusions that should be drawn from this consideration about lovers, again – I am by no means an expert in the field. I do find a value in the example, however, as it provokes a transition to a more abstract interpretation of the reflection on street lights into considering emotional responses. If instead of lovers, we consider the light poles to be individual feelings we have, perhaps guiding us- or failing to do so when there are gaps – on our walk home down a street at night, it is inevitable to enter into and leave the closeness of each pole along our path. It is also uncomfortable to leave one, and while under the light from a single lamp post, whatever light it sheds is supremely valuable over all others. There is a very real attractiveness to never leaving this light.

So what?

Let us continue thinking of emotion in this sense- as the light poles that give us clarity in a very limited scope, in a field of countless other emotions, each with their own little treasure trove of Truth to share with us. Consider also the dark stretches in between. How much do we miss out on if we never leave?

I propose that emotions and feelings are but a single street lamp in such a field, or along our walk home. They give us some Truth, but not all. Logic, for example, can extend the patterns found under the street lights to tell you that the sidewalk is there, even when you cant see it. If you are not alone, and if you visit more than one, concepts of authority, and trust, and history can come into play as well. I think all these things must be considered to obtain the full picture, even believing that extracting specific information about even basic things about what is good and what is bad even under a single light requires interaction and reconciling of many sources of knowledge . . . but again so, what? Why does it matter what we think, or how we know what we know?

Personally, I think there is good potential for an entire book considering this question. Due to my shortcomings in eloquence and more importantly work ethic, I think that may be a book that remains unwritten. I will, however, leave you with one example of a practical application in the suggestion to consider this when arguing a point, or watching a debate. There are a good handful of modern issues where it seems to me that there is a good deal of argument that entirely misses the core disagreement between parties as one uses logic (which relies on patterns to extend what we know from a set of premises) to try to convince about what another has arrived at by emotion and is considering as a premise. Particularly, pay attention to how fruitless discussion is when it jumps to arguing about slippery slopes, and logical causes and consequences. Alternatively, watch for fruitfulness from the discussions that acknowledge each individual’s understanding as imperfect, and call out to each other- what do you see under you light post? What is good? What is bad? What do we need to fix and learn to reconcile? In this, I believe, there is the ability to understand precisely the gap in disagreements so that it can be addressed and fruitful discussion achieved. It is the difference between “vegetables taste gross vs. no they don’t” and “Vegetables taste gross vs. I understand that, and I agreed with you at one point but I have also learned that familiarity with a food makes even things we don’t like taste good over time. Because of this and that a balanced diet including vegetables will help you feel better and more energetic, I think you should eat them since it will help you find more enjoyment in life in the long run.”

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