Make America Great Again: the power of emotion
As humans, we experience a range of emotions on a daily basis. These emotions derive from how we experience objects, others and events in the world and can compel us to act and, equally, not to act. We share emotions either through joint experience or description and they form a base for understanding who we are, individually and collectively. In this sense, they can be enlightening. However, they can also be debilitating. That is, emotions can cloud our judgements, make us act in ways that contradict who we aspire to be, and impact our reasoning processes.
To exemplify how emotions can govern our responses, let’s look at an example and consider on what basis you react to it:
Make America Great again
What is your first reaction to this? Emotional or inquisitive? Did you react with ‘yeah, let’s do it!’ or ‘ah, bloody hell not this again?’ or did this statement lead you to question what greatness is or the degree to which America may have had greatness in the past?
Now consider the goal of this statement: to compel people to act or to genuinely explore a phenomenon? I would argue the former and go one step further and suggest that it is at the expense of the latter. That is, the author of this statement does not just want to compel but once compelled wants to define greatness for the audience.
In academic writing, we try to avoid statements designed to primarily evoke emotional responses, not because emotions are unimportant, but because they are secondary to exploring phenomena in the world.
So how would the above slogan be different if presented within academia? It would probably look more like this:
What does it mean to be great? What does it mean to be NOT great? To what extent are these principles universal? Can a nation possess greatness? If so, how can this be measured? Based on this measurement, when was America great? Are the same conditions observable today? Are they applicable today? What needs to change?
Imagine the crowd’s reaction. What’s yours? What are you thinking right now? What act compels you? Are you considering or are you shouting?
Intrigue is an emotion, too! And, in an increasingly polarized environment, consideration is an act that is required.
Emotion undoubtedly plays a role in reasoning – arguably it is inevitable, even necessary. However, its role – primary or secondary appeal – is important, as, too, are the types of emotional response we seek to evoke as writers.
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