Love. Anger. Fear. Etc.
I was with a group of guys last week and the subject was fear. If you look around these days you’ll see young men wearing No Fear shirts. You’ll see No Fear decals in the rear windows of man-trucks the size of aircraft carriers. In the parlance of 12-steppers, many men treat fear like a defect of character. It’s my observation that some women treat anger in the same way (while men often consider it a birth rite). Recently, a fellow blogger wrote a post about someone she hated at work, expressing guilt because she was taught, partly by her religion, not to hate. According to Dictionary.com, hate means to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest. So, if it’s unChristian to hate, is it OK to dislike? Dislike a little? My blogger friend’s colleague had certainly earned her extreme dislike and even a few revenge fantasies.
Meanwhile, love gets more than a hall pass … it gets to be a divine attribute. After all, we’re supposed to love our neighbor, unless we’re married, of course, then we can love our neighbor but not love our neighbor. And never mind that as humans we often choose to love people that hurt us. Don’t get me started on happiness. People from certain 12-Step programs say God wants us to be happy, joyous and free but in spite of the fact that I’ve done a substantial amount of all three, I ask, Really? All the time? There are times the blind pursuit of happiness is the bane of our society.
It occurs to me that I’m starting to sound like Andy Rooney, so I’ll get to my point. Love, anger, fear, hate and happiness are among the 53 emotions listed by Wikipedia. Human emotions are not defects of character and they occur naturally. In fact the functionalist approach to emotions holds that emotions have evolved for a particular function, such as to keep the subject safe. We’ve given our emotions labels such as good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant and even sinful. Based on our labels, we either welcome or resist certain emotions … and it was psychologist Carl Jung who said, What you resist persists. So, we tend to keep the very emotions we resist around longer than the ones we prefer.
That’s not to say there’s no connection between emotions and defects of character. Many defects of character stem from the way we behave in response to certain emotions. We seek revenge to act out our anger or we enable harmful behaviors out of love. We carry resentments because of anger we’ve never really processed and we fear things that we think may happen in the future. But at sixty-seven, I can see that life isn’t just happy, joyous and free. Talking about fear last week, someone said, If you worry why pray, if you pray why worry? Well, I worry even though I pray because sometimes bad things still happen. That’s not an indictment of God … it’s just fact. And I continue to pray because it helps me get through whatever does happen.
But I don’t waste my time feeling guilty about my emotions although like most, I do resist some … my personal unfavorite is sadness. How about you?