Construct it differently

Contexts are learned. Thus most of what provokes emotion is learned. And these emotional contexts are generally learned in a single-minded way. Children are not taught that the way they feel in a particular context could be either fear or delight. Instead children are taught that snakes are frightening, sunsets are peaceful, mothers (and motherlike people) are loving.

Emotions rest upon premature cognitive commitments. We experience them without an awareness that they could be otherwise, without an awareness that this is the way we, albeit passively, constructed the experience.

If someone or something contradicts the "truth" of these emotional associations to which we have committed ourselves, we point out that they feel right. Since they feel right, they are true. But they may feel right simply because of the way they were originally learned, just as a tune first heard a certain way sounds wrong if played differently later.

Without looking closely and noticing that the same stimulus in different contexts is a different stimulus, we become victims of the associations we ourselves constructed. When we are tormented by unwanted emotions, we assume it could be no other way.

[Ellen Langer]
Mindfulness, p.175, 176

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