A Fish Doesn’t Know It’s in Water is attributed to David Foster Wallace, and is most likely a play on the Chinese proverb If you want a definition of water, don’t ask a fish.  What it means is that we can rarely see – objectively, at least – that of which we are a part, for example, ourselves, our families, our communities, where we work, our society, especially what we would rather not see about any of these.  Our beliefs about ourselves and that of which we are a part are incredibly potent, and it is important to note that beliefs seek reinforcement and so are reinforce-able, by way of simply learning that others believe in a similar way or being presented with even false evidence of what fits with what we believe.  Our beliefs will hold sway even in the face of reality that contradicts it.  This is known as cognitive dissonance.  I have noticed that we often react with negative emotion to reality presented that threatens to distort or nullify belief, while we react with positive emotion to that which bolsters existing belief.

Now, please don’t get me wrong.  Emotion is full of information to which we need to be giving our attention.  The problem is that emotion is messy and difficult to understand, so in US society in particular, and in our organizations especially, we have taken to ignoring its worth and as a result, our ability to work with it, to hear what it is trying to tell us.  As a result, we remain vulnerable to being manipulated by emotion in reaction to single source sound bites and quippy memes that support our beliefs, whether based in reality or not.

So what can we do?  Well, we can start by simply asking ourselves the question, what is true?  Then, take time to check our sources.  Is it a source we prefer because it makes us feel right?  Does the source provide a variety of viewpoints or only one, one we already accept as true?  Acknowledging another viewpoint does not require us to believe that viewpoint, but it should at very least pique our curiosity to ask, what is true?  If something we read or hear supports existing belief to the point of an emotional response, like “yeah, that’s right!”, it might just be too good to be true.


Emotion is as important to our professional lives as thinking. For far too long, emotion has been discounted out of the American concept of professionalism. This makes sense since by simple observation, emotion would appear to be the more complex element of humanity between the two, and regardless of whether we pay attention to it or not, it is there. It informs us when something isn’t right and needs to be corrected, resolved or redirected. It underlies our decision making, and so much more not readily delineated.

It has also been observed that some personality types are more subject to, even driven by, emotion. So, there are at least two development tracks when it comes to emotion. One either needs to develop attention to emotion in order to be more consciously informed by it, or one has a need to separate from emotion in order to manage one’s response to it, to move away from reacting to it.

Neither is new. The practice of meditation in yoga has been around longer than American society, and one of the great many benefits yoga provides is the practice of observing the physical body, thoughts in the mind body and feelings of the emotional body. In my experience, emotion has been the most difficult to observe simply because I am one of those on the emotionally reactive side of the equation. For a good length of time I confused emotion with my intuition and proverbial gut instinct, which made it harder to come to terms with the separation required to observe and consciously apply it.

Emotion is much less simple than thinking, and it needs great care to develop awareness of it and a conscious response to it. Truth is, it is always there, underlying intuition, gut instinct, decision-making and even informing our thoughts, so we would do well as a society to take heed and incorporate emotion rather than continue to deny and combat its existence.

Fare thee well,
~ Jacqueline