Today I attended a function in which two speakers felt the need to make ethnic jokes about Arkansans. I tend to make more fun of my home state than any speaker ever has, so I was surprised when I felt a little tinge of anger at the mild ethnic humour I heard. The jokes were not particularly offensive--incest, Clinton, and ignorance. But they did matter to me, a bit.
It's funny how feelings can bubble up from the shallowest creeks sometimes. I'd say that most people who know me think that I am not particularly showy about expressing my feelings. I don't think that anyone would accuse me of being the "silent type", but I am not much for vivid emotional display, either. I'm much more of the "energetic, passionless debater" type than the "gets angry" type. I am sensitive as the next guy, I suppose. I am always worrying about annoying folks or giving offense. But I certainly am not one who takes deep offense at light humour very often. That's why I was surprised when such little, irrelevant, generalized pinpricks mattered to me. It says more about me than about the people inflicting the minor jabs.
I often say that feelings are over-rated. By this I mean it's so easy to get washed away by emotional reactions, to miss the forest for the trees. Friends then often correct me, and say that feelings really matter much more than I affect to understand. I don't pretend to know much about that, but I do feel surprised when I get angry over something trivial. It's like shaking a friendly hand, and discovering a surprising novelty electric shock buzzer in the outstretched hand. The problem, though, is that I am both shaken and shaker in this analogy. I shock myself, and from where did the buzzer come?
I take great pride in not getting too carried away by my feelings. I don't trust feelings all that much. Even "trusting my gut" tends to me to be a mental process rather than some allegiance to adrenalin or negative emotion.
Feelings can be so wonderful, but they can be horrible betrayers.
So when I feel something so out of proportion to the provocation, I am a bit at sea. Interpreting feelings is a lot like interpreting dreams. I'd rather read the sports page than do either.