Thinking, Feeling, and Willing - A Real Balancing Act
It is from the philosophers of the past that we can attribute much of our present day paradigm. Many of the social, economic and scientific structures of thought used today were developed by philosophers such as John Locke, Adam Smith, and even going back further, Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. Rudolf Steiner, (1861 - 1925), a lesser known philosopher, was interested in human development and described the relationship between the thinking, feeling and willing aspects of humankind. Philosophy is valuable in that it offers an image or picture in which we can view the world in which we live. Different images enrich ones worldview and Steiner’s philosophy, which is often overlooked, is yet another way to visualize today’s global challenges.
In my article, ‘The Age of the Will’ ( http://www.lifecycling.net/the-age-of-the-will.html) I discuss Steiner’s view of the will forces which have a greater capacity for development in the early years, before the change of teeth, up to around 7 years old. Imagine a new born baby moving their arms and legs with no discernable intention just out of sheer will power and how slowly, through time and experience, the thinking forces begin to influence these movements through directive intention. In this early stage it is the will forces that humans have the capacity to develop, but what about the thinking and feeling forces? Steiner believed the willing aspect, which is sympathetic to our environment, and thinking aspect, which is antipathetic, are polar opposites, with the feeling forces mediating these two. According to Steiner, humankind’s role is to strive to gain a healthy balance between thinking and willing which will bring about a healthy feeling life.
Understanding this relationship is important to our collective future in regards to many of our global challenges. We have for so long held our thinking forces in high regard especially when witnessing all the inventions and scientific innovations that have occurred. We increasingly develop new inventions to replace human toil thus freeing up time to be able to think, yet the will forces are built in the limbs, in the act of physically doing something. The thinking and willing forces are becoming increasedly unbalanced towards the thinking end of the spectrum effecting the mediating role of the feeling realm. Our will forces are generated from the unconscious as is demonstrated when we accomplish movements such as walking without any thought, whereas the thinking forces stem from the conscious realms. Taking the example of walking further, picture walking into a room to get something and suddenly you may wonder what you are even doing there. The walking was automatic while you were thinking of something else, however, when you are walking towards a destination or thinking about how you are walking, this requires thought which intermingles with the will. Hence, it takes will forces to stay focused in thinking and not let the mind wonder. Since the will is sympathetic it draws us towards our environment while thinking is antipathetic and it repels us from our environment. This is apparent when observing a wild animal living through their instinctual will forces, totally at one with the environment, whereas a person that is totally taken over by the thinking forces remains environmentally detached. It is through the unconscious will that we develop our feeling realm. By repetition we develop habits, will forces, which work to develop our feeling forces. If the will is not in balance with the thinking, the feeling forces will also be out of balance. Feeling forces share the unconsciousness and sympathy of the willing while also sharing the conscious and antipathy of thinking. One can picture a person with no control over their emotional life making it hard to cope with life itself and on the other hand, the person who has total control over their emotional life and exhibiting a cold persona. It is the balance between the two we all aim to strive for.
Considering this philosophical view it isn’t hard to take into account what is behind our environmental degradation. Through our over whelming thinking forces we have collectively become detached from our environment. Since thinking outweighs the willing, healthy feeling forces do not develop. Understanding this on a philosophical level gives us this insight, however, how can this image be transformed into real change? How can we have more balance between the willing and thinking forces? The feeling realm is developed through strengthening the willing forces by repeated activities that eventually become habits, for example keeping our house clean is culturally acceptable which in turn gives us positive feedback. When I was young I had chores which included taking out the trash and mowing the lawn. Since the chores or physical labor required little thinking capacity, after the initial learning how to do it there was ample time for creative thinking and reflection while doing the chores. I’ll admit that I did a lot of thinking about why we had a manual push mower instead of a power mower like everyone else. I finally asked my father and he told me that I was developing character. I finally went off to college and came home to find my father pushing a new power mower. I asked him why he bought the new mower; after all weren’t we developing character? He assured me that he had already acquired enough character! It is the physical work that stimulates healthy thinking resulting in the mediating role of feeling. It is the physical labor that our culture is increasingly avoiding by implementing technology to do our work. Without considering this balance, technology follows the Law of Diminishing Returns, in that we as humans benefit less and less as each technological labor saving device is put into service in our society. ‘Advancements to society’ often diminish our will and then the previous contrivances end up as trash to be discarded. To consider the balance between thinking and willing would allow us to see a clearer path forward with technological implementation. (Technological development and implementation are separate in that after an invention is made it is up to society utilizing balanced thinking willing forces to decide to utilize the labor saving device, abandon it, change it, or decide how the device could best be used.)
In observing the feeling realm we can see that there is something out of kilter by taking a look at safety in our culture. Both of my parents were teachers and I’m sure they did not want me to be unsafe as I ventured out into the world, but as a 7 year old, after my parents left for work, I was alone for about 15 minutes until it was time to walk myself to school. In today’s world my parents might have been arrested for child neglect. At a young age I had to be able to read the hands on a clock (no digital) and navigate my own life within parameters. I had to leave 10-15 minutes after they left and I had to show up to school shortly afterwards. Doing this every day for a few years became a habit which in turn not only developed will forces but gave me my own time to develop my own thinking forces without outside interference. When I played games with friends we developed the rules allowing us to develop the skills of negotiation and cooperation. There was arguing and disappointments but in the end we usually worked out the differences. Out of our adult concepts about child development we have made our children extremely safe at the cost of their developing valuable life skills. Of course we have to address safety as well as the tendency of a child being a bully or one that is too fragile, however these concerns would also fall under the realm of a healthy balance between thinking and willing. Our culture pushes us into this direction through making parents feel inadequate or neglectful. Our society pushes us to worry how our children are feeling. We don’t want them to get hurt, feel failure or work too hard. Instead of gaining the will to overcome these adversities they develop skills to avoid life itself and become fearful (unhealthy thinking forces) of confronting the world around them. The results of this direction are seen in the apathy of many of our young and the drug addiction crisis throughout our country. Steiner’s insights can help guide our discussions on how to move forward to educate the generations in the future to gain the balance between thinking and willing needed to make sure we care for not only each other but also the Earth.