The Politics of Emotion
In the days after the election, millions of people around the world watched as President Obama delivered a heartfelt—and teary—speech to his campaign staff. “What you guys have done,” he said to them, wiping away tears with his finger, “means that the work that I’m doing is important.” It was both surprising and moving to see a man in a position traditionally known for coolness—under pressure always—overcome with such visible emotion.
In fact, emotions came up a lot throughout the election. Some of the most prominent issues were ones that spoke to us, our lives and our beliefs, very personally: our right to control our bodies, our right to marry whomever we want. We saw many tender moments between the candidates—though some more tender than most. Both during and after the election, the emotional vulnerability we saw from Obama far surpassed that of his opponent, making us wonder: Could emptions have contributed to Obama’s win?
Certainly, says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a certified life coach and Kripalu faculty member. Emotions—and especially vulnerability—are unifying, perhaps as much as fact or policy, she says. Indeed, in many cases, Obama supporters sobbed right along with him. “To feel connected through feelings, to feel felt, is profoundly powerful,” Aruni says. “It’s a very timely and rich concept that fits so well into modern politics. I think Obama’s capacity to be vulnerable gave him such strength. We are all vulnerable and we are all emotional. His humanity was exhibited through his emotional self.”
But don’t we traditionally look to our leaders, especially in times of uncertainty, to be “strong” and “powerful” and unquestionably reassuring—which can mean showing no emotion at all? Not always, says Aruni. “Emotional connection is actually an antidote to fear,” she says, and watching our leaders emote, be real, is very connective. “It’s so impactful to witness someone who is emotionally present and can share that with others,” says Aruni. “It’s healing for all. For a president to be one with his vulnerability and his fears is extraordinary. It is very yogic, and means that he is one with us in humanity.”
This election taught us, to paraphrase Einstein, that the mind alone is not enough; we also need the heart. Obama’s ability to connect, says Aruni, was both transformative and inspiring. And as a politician, it may be one of his best assets. “The sense that Obama is more deeply connected to himself may be why he’s able to speak to so many different kinds of people,” she says. “What he’s saying may come across as a lot more authentic. What’s more, younger people are growing up with a sense of ‘does it matter if we like the person we elect as our president?’ More than ever before, I think it does.”
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