Expressing Our Feelings In Public

Of course it’s O.K. to express your feelings at weddings and funerals. But when was the last time you heard someone share their feelings in public at a conference? When was the last time you did?

I go to the theater

A play, like a straight line, is the shortest path from emotion to emotion
—George Pierce Baker

Last weekend I went to “Raising Our Voices“, a local theater gala by children, youth, and adults with disabilities. I got goose bumps and a little teary. And I finally figured out why this invariably happens when I watch kids theater.

Expressing Our Feelings In Public
You see, when I was growing up my education emphasized thinking. Learning important facts and concepts and being able to apply them to solve problems led to high marks on tests. Getting the right answers, preferably quicker than anyone else, got me to the top of the graded class roster, displayed publicly on the school notice board twice a semester.

No time to feel

However, the educational agenda allocated no time for understanding or expressing my feelings. The only kinds of grading that occurred as a consequence of my emotions were the dramatic reprisals taken when I infrequently misbehaved. All of us in school had feelings, of course, and they greatly affected how and what we did. But no one encouraged us to talk about or explore them. It was repeatedly implied that being near the bottom of the class list would be shameful, without ever giving us any insight as to what shame was!

Over the years I’ve learned to be more in touch with my emotions. And so, when I see kids in a play, encouraged to display joy, anger, fear, guilt, shame, grief and all the subtle variants of these basic human emotions, I’m taken back to my youth, and the little child in me both rejoices and aches for what I missed out on: the childhood opportunity to express and share integral aspects of who we are that were part of the human psyche long before the development of analytical thought.

A wise therapist friend of mine once told me that he believes when you feel that ache of simultaneous joy and pain, healing is going on.

A safe environment for sharing feelings

I think it’s important for conferences to offer a safe environment for attendees to share feelings that may come up during the event. Conferences That Work designs do this. Agreements explicitly safety give participants the right to speak their truth, and promise privacy for anything said.

I don’t want to give the impression that Conferences That Work are full of emoting attendees who rush to share their deepest feelings with anyone they can buttonhole. Far from it. I think I’ve seen more joy and passion at our sessions than at most other events I’ve attended. But, by and large, sharing about emotional issues doesn’t happen often.

But feelings do surface. For example, when people talk about difficulties they’re having in their workplace or their uncertainties surrounding a potential career or job change. I feel happy that our event supports and encourages them to do so. And from the feedback I’ve received, I know it’s important and empowering for the attendees who have the courage to express how they feel.

Have you felt safe to express your feelings at a conference? Do you think it’s appropriate and/or important to be able to do so? Under what circumstances? And what factors make it safer or harder for such sharing to occur?

3 thoughts on “Expressing Our Feelings In Public

  1. At the conference you facilitated for Windham County on collaboration, I absolutely felt very safe expressing what I needed to. It was quite an extraordinary circumstance: as one of the co-hosts of the conference, I had to leave immediately because my father was dying that very day. What was I to do? I both wanted to welcome everyone there and make sure I didn’t hijack the conference with my personal crisis. But I also wanted to honor their commitment to coming and let them know precisely why I couldn’t stay with them. I knew most of them. The rest of them I knew were there so they could be in a very different kind of conference, one where authenticity and networking were primary. So, I told everyone precisely how honored I was they were there and let them know what I had to leave and do. I could feel the wave of support from that group just wash over me. I’m so grateful that space was available for both me and for everyone else. From what I heard, authentic sharing was definitely a theme for the day.

    1. Jodi, thank you so much for sharing such an intimate moment. I can only imagine what it was like to have to set aside an opportunity that you had worked so hard to create (and for the good of so many) to have to attend to sudden circumstances that demanded a different choice.

      I am glad that you had the space to share with everyone what had happened and how you were going to act as a consequence, and I’m touched that you felt such support from everyone present. We missed you, and yet you were with us that day in an important way.

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