Higher Ed: “We’re Not Machines” – Engaging Your Heart And Your Head In Learning

When strong feelings bubble up, your heart might win out over your head in deciding what happens next. But at times, a more thoughtful approach might prove ultimately more effective. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss the tug-of-war between feeling and thinking.

Ed says he thinks higher education can play a role in teaching people how to navigate and process strong feelings so that those feelings can inform – but not derail – learning and major decision making.

“I think that especially on a college campus…it’s really important to allow people space for both that emotional reaction or that emotional response,” says Ed. “And then to encourage them to process and have something else come out of it.”

Ed is quick to clarify that feelings should not be shortchanged or discounted in learning and decision making. He says they actually play a vital role. But he emphasizes the importance of balancing those feelings with mindfulness and awareness.

“Our feelings and our emotions will generate all sorts of intuition; all sorts of creativity; all sorts of new insights; all sorts of new ideas. And then we can play off of them,” says Ed. “But the playing off them, and then what comes next, is all about when we start to think through them.”

What happens if that emotional response is not followed by thoughtful reflection?

“It’s like a car being stuck in the mud,” says Ed. “The wheels are just spinning and spinning and spinning, spewing up mud, but it’s not moving anywhere.”

Listen to the full episode to hear more about how to keep those wheels from just spinning in the mud without making progress, and to get the solution to last episode’s football puzzler (muddy field not required!).

This episode was recorded on Aug. 7, 2019.

After this episode was recorded, Dr. Ed Burger announced that he is leaving Southwestern University in January 2020 to become president and chief executive officer of St. David’s Foundation.

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Jennifer Stayton