Justice & Mercy Series (Part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, I encourage you to do so, or this might not make much sense! It is also written within a Christian context (being my personal value system; my faith in Jesus). I believe that even if you do not identify as a Christian, there are still general psychological principles and scientific knowledge that can help your understanding no matter what context you function within.

Previously, I laid a foundation from a heartfelt place that is based on my own beliefs, research, and experiences. They were mostly focussed on our call to love as opposed to being right. In my own words: Mercy vs Justice.

In this part, I am focussing more on the science behind our emotions and beliefs. I think it is important to understand the way you, along with every other human being, process information. We need a greater understanding that beliefs are not static or cold, mental premises, but are intertwined so deeply with our emotions (conscious and unconscious). Perhaps that is why we feel threatened or react with uncalled for aggression when we believe our beliefs are being challenged. Perhaps it is why we want to pursue justice over what we believe to be right and do everything in our power to enforce that instead of having mercy over others and accepting that, just like us, others are entitled to their own (informed) opinions.

I have 3 quotes by Steve Backlund that I discovered recently, that I want to base this part on. They are quotes that really challenged me to think more deeply about how I think and feel, and my motivations for wanting to think differently. I hope they do the same for you…

“Emotions do not validate truth; they validate what we believe. If we want to have different emotions, then we must have different beliefs that are based on God’s Word.”

This has to be one of the most powerful and confronting quotes I have heard in a long time. Beliefs are so engrained (literally, in our brains as neuropathways) that it is hard to know where one ends and the other starts. As I stated in Part 1, our emotions affect us more than we know or are aware of, and they are tied to almost every part of our lives. To think about our life’s experiences and know that our beliefs have formed from a lot of them, it can be overwhelming to even know what we need to change. I certainly can’t be the one to tell you what thinking is not healthy in your life and what is, however, I can share a simplified depth of how the brain works when we form a belief and how hard it (and we) have to work to rewire ourselves to change our belief when we realise that we might have a thought process that needs correcting.

Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behaviour. Emotional processes not only serve to record the value of sensory events, but also to elicit adaptive responses and modify perception.

Think about this for a moment. Your perception is likely to be modified because of emotion.

Emotion also facilitates encoding (creating a new memory) and helps retrieval of information efficiently. However, the effects of emotion on learning and memory are not always comparable, as studies have reported, emotion either enhances or impairs learning and long-term memory (LTM) retention, depending on a range of factors (which I won’t get into in this article).

Emotional experiences are predominant in nature, they are important and perhaps even critical in academic settings, as emotion modulates virtually every aspect of cognition. Tests, examinations, homework, and deadlines are associated with different emotional states that encompass frustration, anxiety, and boredom. Even subject matter influences emotions that affect one’s ability to learn and remember.

Human emotions comprise complex interactions of subjective feelings as well as physiological and behavioural responses that are especially triggered by external stimuli, which are subjectively perceived as “personally significant.” This means that everything that we experience is filtered through our beliefs and therefore subject to the thoughts and feelings that are attached to what we believe. “Personally significant” is regarding what we value above everything else.

If emotions are at the core of our beliefs and are subjective (subject to/influenced by our personal experiences), they can cause a distortion of what is fact. We need to be aware of this and not live from a place of allowing our emotions to control our behaviour, but rather, our beliefs need to change so that our emotions can follow.

If we are so set that what we believe and feel are right, we are going to unintentionally impose those beliefs and feelings on others. If we do not have an understanding on the above information regarding emotion, and how ours are affected, as well as understanding that others have a whole set of different experiences and filter information through those, the same way that we filter our thoughts, feelings, etc, then we will rarely have mercy over others and will want to justify our feelings and exact our own justice to be right.

Just a little bit of extra neuroscience-related information for those of you still with me… The sensory inputs we receive from the environment undergo a filtering process as they travel across one or more synapses, ultimately reaching the area of higher processing, like the frontal lobes. There, the sensory information enters our conscious awareness. What portion of this sensory information enters is determined by our beliefs. Fortunately for us, receptors on the cell membranes are flexible, which can alter in sensitivity and conformation. In other words, even when we feel stuck ‘emotionally’, there is always a biochemical potential for change and possible growth. When we choose to change our thoughts (bursts of neurochemicals), we become open and receptive to other pieces of sensory information that may have previously been blocked by our beliefs. Basically, when we change our thinking, we change our beliefs. When we change our beliefs, we change our behaviour.

“Something that is true for me is not truth. You can’t renew your mind with your experiences.”

But this is what we do, we draw on our experiences and use them as empirical evidence to support what we believe. Our brain creates heuristics (mental shortcuts based on previous information), so when something presents itself as similar or familiar, it automatically fills in the gaps and forms a belief based on very minimal information. We then draw conclusions based on these heuristics which are ultimately flawed and not grounded in fact at all. We can then become so focussed on what is right and in being right, that we overshadow our more important purpose of loving and giving life, and our behaviour will reflect what is within our thoughts and beliefs.

“I get saved when I believe in Jesus. I get free when I believe like Jesus.”

Free from judgement and judging others. Free from having to take responsibility for justice or mercy. Your nature naturally becomes like Jesus because you are rewiring your brain to think like Him (Romans 12:2). Whilst it is not that straightforward because none of us were raised like Jesus and do not have His exact personality, it doesn’t mean that our behaviours can’t become more like His; our thoughts align and therefore our actions & emotions will gradually represent those thoughts.

I want to bring this back to the simple gospel; my motivation for writing this two-part article in the first place. My main point was and still is: Why do you want or even need to be right when your whole purpose in life, is to love? This approach of not living in a ‘right vs wrong’ mentality is an intentional measure that requires thought and effort to change.

If you haven’t heard of Steve and Wendy Backlund, I encourage you to look up some resources, especially Wendy’s book, ‘Victorious Emotions.’

If you have any questions regarding this article, please feel free to email me: danielle@thelovefactor.org and I will endeavour to answer promptly!

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