“I don’t go for that touchy-feely stuff”

I sat down after a brief presentation to a class of 20 leaders over dinner. A central theme of the talk was the importance of creating a sense of community among leaders for mutual development. I heard one of the leaders at my table say to her colleague, “I don’t go for that touchy-feely stuff.”

I’d been talking about the role of emotion in development, but I don’t go for that touchy-feely stuff, either. Whenever I’ve heard that phrase it has almost always referenced some blunt attempt to manipulate or pressure people into having a particular kind of emotional experience. Like predictions that “you’re going to love that movie” or demands that we sing with more enthusiasm, the insistence on creating a shared reaction is irritating at best. While it is true that feelings typically are shaped by actions more than the other way around, the rousing cheerleading of group leaders so often comes off as phony and coercive. I don’t want my emotionfireworks Coronado 2013al response to a given situation to be dictated to me.

It seems likely that genuine emotional engagement will only come from individuals who have the freedom to have no engagement if that’s how they feel.