On Emotion

You must learn to cry, they said.

My mother once told me that the reason why men die young is because they hold their feelings in. They don’t know how to release these emotions out in a safe way. So, she told me from a very young age, never suppress your emotions. I’m not so sure now.

I grew up in a passionate household. But even at home I think I was the most rash and outspoken, earning a few slaps or canings sometimes because i just gave way too much lip. I grew up in a home where one did not have to hold one’s emotions back. Expressing an opinion was something that came naturally to my siblings and I, and our parents encouraged us to have one. The university supported that belief, and showed me how I could better substantiate these perspectives, gut feelings and emotions. They supplied the kindling to the spark. So I have never thought that it was a bad thing to listen to one’s heart and one’e emotions. My limited life experiences so far, however, have burnt me enough to have taught me restraint and discretion.  So it is okay to have an opinion, but there is a right time and a right place to express that opinion, to articulate these emotions. Or so it’s said. I think the truth is that everyone wants to watch a show. Myself included. As long as there are no harsh penalties and costs incurred. Why not?

This day, this week, this semester, this year, I am beginning to learn that the world may not necessarily want you to have one. They say, there is a right time and place for the expression of emotions. But the truth is that once you colour outside the lines people will express their (distanced, clinical) disapproval. It’s not becoming, they say politely, a man shouldn’t be so whiny. Stop making such a fuss. In the Army, the term, of course, is suck thumb. Carry on.

Emotions are volatile. They are unpredictable. They escape the classificatory, rigid and stable grid that we try to place over our lives. We imagine ourselves in control, we act in ways that imply we are in control. And because of that, for the most part, we are. Emotions escape this grid. Emotions, spilling out openly from the heart and the soul and the life of one who is suffering, makes people uncomfortable. There is a latent, underlying fear that these emotions may creep up onto us, the observers, and infect us with their intensity. Emotions are thus dangerous.

I used to think this was important, but that one could channel these emotions safely, quietly. So they do not harm people in the process. Discomfit them. Hurt them. But I am beginning to think that this is difficult. Perhaps impossible. Whatever we may try to imagine about ourselves, there are roiling oceans in us that boil with livid intensities. I just had the misfortune of having kept these floodgates open all my life, under the mistaken assumption that these energies could be productive. They could be of benefit to the people around me; that one day this quivering energy could be channelled into an endeavour useful and productive to the community I live in.

Maybe I am tired now. Maybe I am broken, sundered by too many failed attempts in personal efforts. There is only so many times you can trudge up the muddy slope, hoping that this time, you will make it to the summit, instead of being terminated halfway up by some stupid mistake. You can spend ten weeks, twelve weeks, a whole semester with someone. Thinking for once, after all this time, that this may be the moment. Or there may be no ‘The One’s. There are only a whole series of mistakes you make until you’re too tired to make any more mistakes and just hold on or just lose all hope. In any case, it does not matter.

Emotions attract other counter-vailing emotions. The net effect and the bottom line is simply that there is nothing good that will come out of it. You can hope all you want. You may even have days and weeks where you feel on top of the world. But like any dependency, withdrawal will only make your world come crashing down abruptly and dramatically, no matter how happy you were. I’m beginning to think it isn’t worth it, this emotional drug you take, called people. Best to be alone; stablest, and treat people as great experiences that will leave in the end. Like what Mary Oliver said about living in this world:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go

(Mary Oliver)

And maybe the only reason why two people come together is because there are societal pressures and frameworks which compel individuals to come together, and possibly stay together. I’m beginning to think it’s so difficult to delineate nature from nurture that maybe we should just pick a side and run with it. Our worldviews make our realities, within certain limitations that the physical world imposes. Maybe emotions are all constructs too. Maybe that warm, fuzzy glow is imagined, the animated residue of too many Hollywood movies of pretty women and mysterious men. Maybe the sadness and the self-righteous fury are psychological artifices and robots we unconsciously operate in response to a set of expected stimuli. Learned responses.

Today’s word is: stoic.

I’ve spent too much time reading scholarly books these few weeks to bother with an academic definition or historical overview of the Greek school of thought. But i take the meaning i’ve learnt over the years, and which Google readily supplies, which is:

“a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining” (Google)

Where do all the emotions of these stoics go? Or maybe they just learn to drain the pressure that rises with the blood-dimmed tide. I want to be a stoic too.

You must learn to cry, they said.

My mother once told me that the reason why men die young is because they hold their feelings in. They don’t know how to release these emotions out in a safe way. So, she told me from a very young age, never suppress your emotions.

I don’t know anymore. Perhaps it’s best to keep quiet and carry on with life. That’s what real men do, I suppose. Keep going.

The Story of the Artillery Piece

The artillery piece never knew why it had been made, or the reason for its making. All it knew was to do its job, and do it very well. Which was to deliver timely, continuous and devastating fires onto enemy positions. It knew complete annihilation better than anything else. Unfortunately, that was all it knew.

One day, it started to question why it had to do this. Was this all there was to it? To which the artillery gun’s Gun Positioning Officer and Detachment Commander replied:

“Stop thinking so hard and being so complicated,” they admonished “You’re just an artillery gun. A gear in the fearsome machinery that is the Army. Your job is not to feel or to have emotions. Just deliver your death from above, and make sure you can fire smoothly. Keep it up. Fire for effect.”

When the war was over they didn’t use the artillery piece so much anymore. One day they dismantled it, and the artillery piece never got a chance to learn what it had been made for, or why it felt this way. Ours not to question why, thundered Tennyson, ours just to do and die. Existentially nihilistic. 

Emotion is dangerous and volatile. Better to hold the grid, and hold the line.



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