Study Finds “I feel” Overused

By Caleb Nelson, guest contributor

The subjective part of the world, wonderfully unchallengeable and delightfully, well, me-oriented, is the perfect place to hold a controversial opinion: thinking is often wrong; feeling never is. Thus, a few minutes sojourn in classrooms, even at colleges supposedly accommodating the nation’s best and brightest, will show the phrase “I feel” to be ridiculously overused in almost every class. I can tell you that a feeling is unjustifiable, that it is loony, that it makes less sense than Joe Biden, even that it ought to be a disreputable outcast but I can’t tell you that you don’t feel it.

Cowardice begets these feelings; laziness sustains them. Having no real belief in my own opinion, I call it a feeling so that it can’t be called baloney. By this means, I retire from intellectual life as easily as John Elway retired from football, letting my thoughts wander, never taking the trouble to justify my words and actions, taking refuge in the fortress of my own subjectivity, letting the world pass me by while I sip lemonade and laugh at the folly of those who are able to give a reason. After all, am I not wiser than seven of them?

I have just described the fool, a man who subscribes so enthusiastically to popular notions that he can see nothing but how uncomfortable it is to say something falsifiable. The humble man is not so; aware of his own inadequacies and errors, he eagerly submits to rebuke. He wants to be corrected, for he wants to learn and grow. “Teach a wise man,” says the ancient book of Proverbs, “and he will be yet wiser.” Teach a wise man? Too bad so few of this country’s professors ever get the chance.

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Posted by at 08:40 | Posted in Measure 37 | 39 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Tristan

    Your writing style is terrible. No one cares how big the words you use are. The smarter man can convey his ideas in fewer words and a more readable prose.

    Interesting topic. But your writing makes it damn near unreadable.

    • JClark

      Really? The only “big words” I see up there are simply long words, which is something else entirely. There isn’t a single word used that even a middle schooler shouldn’t understand without difficulty. It is perfectly readable. The only real problem is the run-on sentences, which are simply sloppy.

      I’m guessing you likes to paint yourself as the one person in the room who knows better, who isn’t impressed by the “meager” achievements of others. Really, you’re just a cynic.

  • Derek Currie

    I feel that your feeling that Joe Biden is loony is a low blow non sequitur, having nothing to do with your point.

    I believe I will now tell you a story: When I was in college I had to deal with the Dean of Students on some bureaucratic technicality whereby he had to approve of my receiving credits for some class or other. I was told directly by his secretary to NEVER express that I ‘feel’ this or that about the subject at hand. Instead I must ‘believe’ something to be the case instead. IOW he had a hang up about humans feeling things to be true rather than believing them to be true. I followed her advice and got my bureaucratic check mark.

    The day of our graduation he gave us a speech about how we MUST NOT flip the tassel on our mortar board silly hats from one side to the other after receiving our pseudo-diploma while walking down the stairs off the stage. His dire warning was that we will trip and fall and make fools of ourselves because we are uncoordinated little peons, despite having survived his glorious educational institution. So I happily defied Dean-anti-feelings and successfully flipped him the bird by flipping my tassel. It felt very good. 😀

  • Understatementjones

    I usually deploy “I feel” when I mean “you’re wrong as hell, but I’m not going to argue with you about it.” It’s routine not because it defends you from criticism, but because it blunts the sting of your criticism of others (others who, if you haven’t noticed, are apt to get defensive and irrational when their ideas come under direct attack). And unlike some other forms of blunting, “I feel” doesn’t do anything to the substance of your argument – just because you feel it doesn’t mean your objection isn’t logically solid and unimpeachably correct.

  • Sextus Empiricus

    I need to see some hard evidence for all this.

  • ummm…

    I feel like this article was asinine. I feel that I’ve wasted five minutes of my life. And now I feel ashamed of having read it.

    Seriously, this is the most trivial thing I’ve ever read. Maybe the reason people use “I feel” so often is because they’re sick of other pompous blowhards like Mr. Article Writer telling them they’re wrong and that they need to get their facts straight. The world wasn’t built to please you. Gasp! Shocking.

    Also, your attempts at elocution come off as banal and arrogant at best, nonsensical and clueless at worst.

    • Truther

      I beg to differ; the author is correct. I’ve had a number of arguments/debates/disagreements where people retreated into “I feel,” explicitly stating that their feelings were unimpeachable. It really does get used that way. If people were just using it as a synonym for “I think,” then I would agree with you. But this is a symptom of excessive subjectiveness. I will agree with #3 that this phrase is occasionally useful to blunt a harsh opinion. Since that usage doesn’t protect one’s opinion from disagreement, I find it wholly unobjectionable.

  • Norm

    Caleb,
    You’re failing the grade as an educator by not recognizing that the history of the student is an important component of his or her learning. That history is composed in feeling, and the pathways of thought thus influenced. When you insist on “pure” thought, you’re in the lab, not the real world.

    When someone says “I feel” da-da-da-da, he or she is giving you valuable information about themselves and is speaking to you in and of the fullness of personal history.

    When you ignore that, you do so at the peril of education itself. If, further you repress it, you complicate the learning process for that person needlessly, and you ignore basic modern neuroscience in the efficiency and effectiveness of your teaching style.

  • JustAsking

    I feel like you failed to deliver on the promise of your headline. What study?

  • Agreed

    If you’re using “I feel” as a way to justify your answer, it is a horrible use of that sentence fragment.

    I have to question, however, where the study is. Does it consist of what you feel is the biggest problem in the classroom today?

    Trust me, the world is composed of exactly as many critical thinkers today as it has been in the past. Critical thinking is still taught, and there are still those out there who question everything, including themselves.

    Then again, I’m not likely in the same country as you are – so your experiences may not match my own.

  • Jay Zeus

    What is wrong with “I feel”? It’s honest and it doesn’t criticize other peoples opinions as harshly as I think. It sets the tone of discussion on a very human and personal level. If one wanted to be bold and sound sure of his thoughts, they should be using “I KNOW”, as in what I KNOW something to be so true, it’s practically fact or logically secure without much room for questioning.

    The phrases “I think” and “I feel” are pretty much the same. A person who would disregard what a person feels is disregarding an entire aspect about the human mind. The fact that you even used ‘I’ sets the tone to be a very personal belief.

    I think you just aren’t getting laid enough to realize how trivial your rant is about people who “feel”. Women “feel”, are you telling me their opinions are worth nothing?

  • taopraxis

    I feel like I want my 5 minutes back.

  • solace

    What study ? Who conducted it ? Where can I read it ?

  • Squirrel

    Nicely done! I’m glad to see you finally finished that “Expert” level Mad-Lib puzzle! And truly fantastic choices in using the semicohesive pop culture comparisons. I couldn’t tell what was funnier: the grab-bag style choices of them, or the desperate attempt to make your writing more witty. Man, your sense of humor kills me. See you at the poetry slam!

    Truly yours,
    Czar Kazm

  • theChromeLamma

    Most reading (and thus capable of replying to) this rant are probably not members of the accused. It speaks to a general trending amongst U.S. college students toward intellectual stances that can’t be pinned down or directly criticized, because to do so assaults not ideological stances but individual people. As was mentioned, “I feel” softens the harshness of a controversial expression and helps absolve one from rebuke. Yet rather than tactfully employing this as a rhetorical device to “sugarcoat” polemical ideas (that they might be interpreted apart from the biases they conjure up), a sad portion of college students today use it to justify not HAVING particular beliefs about controversial things in the first place, and as a means of avoiding criticism of their beliefs. It’s being able to say what you want and still have an out. Intellectual vaginitis. As a college student I see it regularly. But nothing like it on this thread.

  • Me, Myself, and I

    “I feel” that you are right on target. After all, who are you to judge another person’s feeling. What most people do not recognize, is that feelings stem from thoughts: wrong thoughts lead to wrong feelings. Therefore, although your feelings may be beyond debate, your thoughts leading to that feeling have no such protection. Feelings are subjective, opening up the sea of relativism where nothing good can come, except, maybe expressing opinions about opinions.. the truth is never found.

    As always, your witty style made me laugh. I think that you hit a chord with most of your readers.

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