What does an empty boat and a group of golliwogs have to do with emotions?

 On a foggy morning on a narrow river, a man is mooring his boat up the river and out of the fog he sees another boat hurtling downstream towards him. He shouts and screams at the other person to look out, get out of the way. However the boat continues to approach without changing course, and he becomes angrier, waving and shaking his fists. As the boat smashes into his and continues downstream, he notices that there is no one in it. It is an empty boat drifting down the river.

Two things are happening here:

  1. He is displaying his emotions
  2. His perspective changes when he sees that there is no one in the boat  

Differing perspectives

We see the world through our own lens influenced by how we were brought up, our parents, elders, teachers, community, those around us, our environment…

 Yesterday I bought a group of Golliwogs at an auction. They reminded me of my idyllic childhood in South America and happy memories of reading Enid Blyton’s books. I wasn’t demeaned by them or saw them as being ‘racially insensitive’ (by the way I am brown / black or whatever you may want to call me).

As a child, I didn’t think of / see people as being black or white. They were just people. That was my perspective and still is. For others, I respect that their perspectives might be different and in connecting and building a relationship I would want to understand where that other person was coming from? What is his ‘map of the world’?

In the words of Milton Erickson, “each person’s map of the world is as unique as their thumbprint. There are no two people alike…no two people who understand the same sentence the same way…so in dealing with people try not to fit them to your concept of what they should be”

Managing emotions

What does the man with boat do? He has no one to direct his emotional outburst to. Will he direct them to an inanimate object, the boat?

Managing your emotions is not about trying to reject or repress them. Controlling them would be like putting a lid on a pressure cooker. Bottling up your emotions can be overwhelming, stressful and interfere with your well-being.  

Instead of trying to control your emotions, learn to manage them, accept that they exist and deal with them. To do that requires self-awareness. Emotions carry a message about something that is happening now or that has happened in the past and is unresolved. How we think affects how we feel and this in turns affects our behaviour. A good question to ask is : “what is this feeling trying to tell me?”

Learn to recognise triggers and if you feel yourself getting too upset or angry, take a few seconds time out to THINK about whatever is happening.

 Own your emotions

We are responsible able for how we react to a given event / exchange. I might shout at you and you will get upset. I might do the same to another and she will not be bothered. The meaning that we attach to an event and the emotional response is different.  I can’t make you cry, you do that by yourself. It sounds harsh, but we can choose how we respond to others. In the words of Victor Frankl, “the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”

How do you deal with and manage your emotions? What are your perspectives on this?

Don’t be shy….please do leave a comment. If you would like to learn more, check out my other Blogs and follow me on Twitter.



About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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2 Responses to What does an empty boat and a group of golliwogs have to do with emotions?

  1. Peter Hook says:

    An excellent and thoughtful post – thankyou

  2. Margaret Burnside says:

    Great summary of emotional intelligence Vera – like it!

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