Atyantika Mookherjee ’27 (DCI Fellow)
It is common to consider emotion as the antithesis of reason and logic. After all, emotions are seen as spontaneous, subjective, and sometimes even irrational, while reason and logic is associated with objectivity and rationality. In public discourse, the interplay of these elements is of prime importance, influencing the course of an argument. Playing into an emotion/reason binary, it is often considered that debate should be centered on facts, leaving no room for the informal fallacy of appealing to emotion. Before joining the DCI as a Fellow, I, too, believed that emotion was a dispensable part of facilitating a productive conversation. However, in learning more about deliberation, I’ve come to recognize the importance of emotion, how it can be effectively communicated through storytelling, and why we should not just “set our feelings aside” when deliberating about public issues.
In his article, “Impassioned Democracy: The Roles of Emotion in Deliberative Theory,” Michael Neblo explores this intersection between emotion and deliberative theory, making the case that despite what many people think, the two are not mutually exclusive. He goes on to outline twelve distinct roles that emotion plays in the process of deliberation. These include contributing to the motivation to deliberate, providing inputs through experiences that harden into critical propositions, and ensuring a reciprocal and empathetic backdrop for the deliberation to occur.
In practice, I see how emotions contribute to better deliberations and agree with many aspects of Neblo’s argument. During the deliberation sessions I hosted as a DCI fellow for Davidson students, alums, and community members, I noted many individuals falling back on personal experiences and how they felt about them in formulating their arguments. Many of their responses to each other were rooted in shared events and outlooks. In retrospect, even my motivation to be part of the DCI comes from my travels to Pakistan as a young Indian girl, seeking to clarify misconceptions both countries have about each other’s communities as I saw them. In this manner, I now understand the role of emotion in deliberation to be critical and be expressed through a medium one would also not commonly associate with deliberation: storytelling.
Stories aim to inspire empathy and provide a deeper, more vibrant understanding of contexts the way facts fail to. Through the use of the Perspectives platform that seeks to encourage individuals to participate in constructive dialogue, I was able to glean more of an understanding of the role of storytelling in deliberation. Stories that are honest, important, and effective play a crucial role in setting the tone for peoples’ opinions and allow deliberators to connect, making for a more fruitful discussion. Naturally, the cornerstone for all such stories is emotion. People remember how an experience made them feel and use this to formulate the values they eventually contemplate during deliberations. They listen to other peoples’ emotions and compare them to their own in reaching their conclusions.
This is not to say that the influence of emotion in deliberation is always straightforward. In certain instances, emotions might sway deliberations towards options that align with immediate gratification or deeply ingrained beliefs, bypassing logical reasoning. Nonetheless, acknowledging and understanding emotions in deliberation can lead to more informed and balanced decision-making. From my own experiences, I’ve realized that successful deliberation often involves integrating emotional intelligence with rationality. This integration allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of choices, considering both the logical implications and the emotional resonance of decisions. In collaborative deliberative processes, recognizing and respecting diverse emotional responses among participants can lead to more inclusive and nuanced outcomes.