We feel. We try to feel. We want to try to feel. The social guidelines that direct how we want to try to feel may be describable as a set of socially shared, albeit often latent (not thought about unless probed at), rules. In what way, we may ask, are these rules themselves known and how are they developed?20
To begin with, let us consider several common forms of evidence for feeling rules. In common parlance, we often talk about our feelings or those of others as if rights and duties applied directly to them. For example, we speak of “having the right” to feel angry at someone. Or we say we “should feel more grateful” to a benefactor. We chide ourselves that a friend’s misfortune, a relative’s death, “should have hit us harder,” or that another’s good luck, or our own, should have inspired more joy. We know feeling rules, too, from how others react to what they infer from our emotive display. Someone may say to us, “You shouldn’t feel so guilty: it wasn’t your fault,” or “You don’t have a right to feel jealous, given our agreement.” Another may simply declare an opinion as to the fit of feeling to situation and attach authority to his opinion. Others may question or call for an account of a particular feeling in a situation, whereas they do not ask for an accounting of some other situated feeling.21 Claims and callings for an account can be seen as rule reminders. At other times, a person may, in addition, chide, tease, cajole, scold, shun—in a word, sanction—us for “mis – feeling.” Such sanctions are a clue to the rules they are meant to enforce.
Rights and duties set out the proprieties as to the extent (one can feel “too” angry or “not angry enough”), the (one can feel sad when one
should feel happy), and the duration of a feeling, given the situation against which it is set. These rights and duties of feeling are a clue to the depth of social convention, to one final reach of social control.
There is a distinction, in theory at least, between a feeling rule as it is known by our sense of what we can expect to feel in a given situation and a rule as it is known by our sense of what we should feel in that situation. b’or example, one may realistically expect (knowing oneself and one’s neighbor’s parties) to feel bored at a large New Year’s Eve party and at the same time acknowledge that it would be more fitting to feel exuberant.
In any given situation, we often invest what we expect to feel with idealization. To a remarkable extent these realizations vary socially, as is shown by a woman recalling her experiences as a “flower child”:
When I was living down south, I was involved with a group of people, friends.
We used to spend most evenings after work or school together. We used to do a lot of drugs, acid, coke or just smoke dope, and we had this philosophy that we were very communal and did our best to share everything—clothes, money, food, and so on. I was involved with this one man—and thought I was “in love" with him. He in turn had told me that I was very important to him. Anyway, this one woman who was a very good friend of mine at one time and this man started having a sexual relationship, supposedly without my knowledge. I knew though and had a lot of mixed feelings about it. I thought intellectually that 1 had no claim to the man, and believed in fact that no one should ever try to own another person. I believed also that it was none of my business and 1 had no reason to worry about their relationship together, for it had nothing really to do with my friendship with either of them. I also believed in sharing. But I was horribly hurt, alone and lonely, depressed, and I couldn’t shake the depression and on top of those feelings 1 felt guilty for having those possessively jealous feelings. And so I would continue going out with these people every night and try to suppress my feelings. My ego was shattered. і got to the point where I couldn’t even laugh around them. So finally I confronted my friends and left for the summer and traveled with a new friend. I realized later what a heavy situation it was, and it took me a tong time to get myself together and feel whole again.
Whether the convention calls for trying joyfully to possess, or trying casually not to, the individual compares and measures experience against an expectation that is often idealized. It is left for motivation (“what I want to feel") to mediate between feeling rule (“what I should feel”) and emotion work (“what I try to feel”). Much of the time we live with a certain dissonance between “ought” and “want,” and between “want” and “try to.” But the attempts to reduce emotive dissonance are our periodic clues to rules of feeling.
A feeling rule shares some formal properties with other sorts of rules, such as rules of etiquette, rules of bodily comport inent, and those of social interaction in general. A feeling rule is like these ot her kinds of rules in the following ways: It delineates a zone within which one has permission to be free of worry, guilt, or shame with regard to the situated feeling. A feeling rule sets down a metaphoric floor, walls, and ceiling, there being room for motion and play within boundaries. Like other rules, feeling rules can be obeyed halfheartedly or boldly broken, the latter at varying costs. A feeling rule can be in varying proportions external or internal. Feeling rules differ curiously from other types of rules in that they do not apply to action but to
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what is often taken as a precursor to action. Therefore they tend to be latent and resistant to formal codification.
Feeling rules reflect patterns of social membership. Some rules may be nearly universal, such as the rule that one should not enjoy killing or witnessing the killing of a human being.22 Other rules are unique to particular social groups and can be used to distinguish among them as alternate governments or colonizers of individual internal events.