Tuesday, April 26, 2005


What are emotions? We all have them, but how often do we really think about them? I've often wondered about them myself, things like "Why is sadness unpleasant?," and "Why should certain things cause me to be happy?" Somewhere in the midst of all those questions, I came to some conclusions. I'll share some of them here. Why? Because I can.

So, emotions. I've come to the conclusion that emotions are basically our instinctive responses to things that happen to us. Something good happens, we feel good. Something bad happens, we feel bad. I suspect they were given to us by God to help us survive in this world; to give us a basic sense of what we should and shouldn't do. If we're afraid of the giant bear standing in front of us, we're less likely to go up to it and try to hug it (which would probably be detrimental to our health). Likewise, if we feel happy when we're with friends, we will try to hang out with them more, which also helps us survive. Of course, there's more to emotions than just survival, but that's the part I want to focus on at the moment.

For today's blog, I want to focus in particular on fear and anger. I've been hearing a lot about these two lately, for some reason, and so I've been thinking about them a lot. This is what I think:

It seems to me that fear and anger are flip sides of the same coin. They're our natural reaction to pain and danger, part of our "fight or flight" instinct. When we're confronted with pain and danger (such as the giant rabid grizzly bear I mentioned earlier), we basically have two options: run away, taking yourself away from the danger; or stand and fight, and take the danger away from you (by killing the bear with your pocketknife and making him into a rug, perhaps). Of course, these actions are the result of the emotions that spring up within you as a response to the danger: fear makes you run away, anger makes you stand and fight.

That's all well and good when we're talking about enormous hungry bears with a taste for human flesh. The problem is, with us human beings, not all pain and danger is the physical sort. Things get way more complicated when we're talking about emotional pain and distress. If you get angry and kill your boss and make him into a nice rug, you'll probably go to jail for the rest of your life (or, in Canada, 2 or 3 years with parole). If you are afraid of the school bully and run away from him, he'll just come after you again later and taunt you some more.

So we repress our emotions. We pretend we aren't afraid. We seal the anger inside. We try to deal with the problem as best we can, but meanwhile the bottled up emotions eat away at us and make us miserable. Fear becomes cowardice, and anger becomes hate. People tend to think anger is better than fear, and I think this is because anger tends to result in a more permanent solution -- if you run away, the danger is still out there and could come get you again. If you kill the danger, or at least make it afraid of you, it's dealt with for good. But in reality, when talking about emotional pain and danger anyway, both options have equally bad ends. The fear or the anger consumes our lives, isolating us, distorting how we look at things. No matter which emotional response to pain we choose, it makes our life worse.

There is a third option, though. Strength. Although anger seems stronger than fear, both are born out of weakness. If you are stronger than the grizzly bear, the bear poses no threat to you. You have no reason to be either afraid or angry. In fact, if you're stronger than the bear, and fear or anger are not clouding your perceptions, all of a sudden you have time to see why it is that the bear is angry. Perhaps the bear stepped on a thorn, or a bear trap. If the bear's worst attack cannot hurt you, you are no longer primarily concerned about your own welfare, and you can begin to feel other emotions about the bear: sympathy, caring, perhaps love. You could even help the bear remove the thorn or the trap or whatever. (Just a note for those who aren't paying attention: the bear is a metaphor for people in our lives who hurt us emotionally).

Of course, no human being is actually stronger than a bear. No normal human being will not be hurt by the barbs and betrayals of our fellow humans. There's always something stronger than us, something that can hurt us. In fact, there's only one person in all of existence big enough to feel no fear or anger as a result of pain.


So, in the end, it all ties neatly back to my previous blog post about growth and destruction (I swear, I didn't plan it that way). We need God; we need to rely on his strength to see us through. When your eyes are on God, and it's his strength you're relying on and not your own, all of a sudden all of those things which looked so big and scary are now small and harmless. You can start to focus on what's important, rather than yourself and your emotions.


SEZ said...

I just love that! It's real true Truth. Encouraging words.
May God bless you a whole lot!

carly said...

amazing post JZ,
i actually printed this off. and another one i think. but anyway, i'm so glad you wrote about this. that day at the creamy when we were talking about emotions, i sensed you knew what you were talking about;) you obviously do! keep it up, it's very encouraging!!

fleamarketcreep said...

I think you've been blessed with wisdom, my friend.