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Where Are You Going


A colleague of mine recently told me about the Brene Brown series, Atlas of the Heart on HBO based on her book by the same name. I was familiar with the book since I listened to it several months ago and liked it so much, I bought it.

Thanks to GPS and having every map in the palm of our hands, we don’t use atlases much anymore, however, I can remember sitting behind my dad in the car as a child where there was always an atlas tucked into the back pocket of the driver’s seat. Nevertheless, I had to look up the definition of atlas to really understand what it is. Plainly, an atlas is a book of maps. Atlas of the Heart maps the relationships between emotions.  For example, what are the differences between the feelings of embarrassment, shame, humiliation, and guilt? In the book, Brown clusters similar emotions and each cluster’s heading begins with, “Places we go when…” Hence, she defines the emotions and names the nuances for each while also defining why we “go there” when we experience those feelings.


The book’s pages are glossy and vibrant. The series is like a master class where Brown is the professor and you are a student in her class. In both, Brown uses examples we can all relate to in helping us internalize a deeper understanding of the range of human emotions. What’s more, Brown explains the importance of using the right name of the emotion to describe our feelings not just because words matter, but because what we tell ourselves becomes our reality. For example, the physical reaction to excitement and anxiety is more or less the same—the difference in how we emotionally respond to both, however, is very different and often a result of how we name the feeling. “Anxiety and excitement feel the same, but how we interpret and label them can determine how we experience them.”

The goal is not to get persnickety and in the weeds with our vocabulary—it’s to recognize we can influence our experiences simply by the words we choose to describe the experience. In fact, Brown shares, that though we may say we think first and then feel second, we actually feel first and then think. In Brown’s words, “We are emotional, feeling beings; who on rare occasions think.” In other words, when you experience a feeling, you notice the feeling and then name it. You choose the name you want to give to the physical and emotional experience and the label you choose impacts how your mind cognitively processes the experience.


One of the most important concepts from Atlas of the Heart for me was the idea of “near enemies.” To understand near enemies, let’s begin with far enemies. Far enemies are the clear opposites of the intended response. For example, disconnection is the far enemy of connection, thoughtlessness is the far enemy of thoughtfulness. Near enemies, however, are much subtler but still destructive. These are “emotions or traits masquerading as a virtue.” For example, a near enemy of empathy is sympathy. Rather than truly being by the side of another person with empathy, sympathy is feeling bad for them without a willingness or ability to relate to the person.


The concept of near enemy is very thought-provoking to me. I keep thinking not just about the feelings that could be near enemies, but the behaviors. For example, someone who says they care about preserving the earth so they recycle, but they also do not hesitate to click Buy It Now on Amazon day after day which can create a large carbon footprint. There are plenty of parents who want their children to do well in school and will do their child’s homework for them. The parent thinks they are doing a good thing by helping their child, when in fact, they are harming their child who is not doing the work needed to ensure learning happens. What about people pleasers who are so desperate for other people’s approval that even though they try to maintain their integrity, they will say what they think the other person wants to hear?


All of this to say Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary annually identifies a Word of the Year based on data from searches on their website. In 2023, the Word of the Year was “authentic.” Certainly, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) can be attributed to the human desire to wrap our heads around what is real and what is not when computers can do so much. Yet, no computer nor AI will be able to name your experiences for you. It is up to you to do that and to live your life authentically. As we look ahead to the coming year, what will it mean for you to be your authentic self?



P.S. My Catch of the Week is ChatGpt.  You read that right. Though I personally love to write and generate my writing, I have found ChatGpT to be an easy and effective way to help me brainstorm and see my writing through a different lens. I have already used it in my posts to create lists of ideas. I also sometimes use it to help me think about my conclusions or even ask it to improve my writing. I find it works best with lists since my writing has a style that ChatGpT cannot replicate. Nevertheless, to me, it’s a little like what a calculator is for math…it’s only as useful and accurate as the person using it, and certainly nothing to be afraid of or avoid.

P.P.S. Please remember to...

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