Cultivation Of The Emotions
There is no other mental factor which has more to do with the enjoyment
we get out of life than our feelings and emotions.
THE EMOTIONS AND ENJOYMENT.--Few of us would care to live at all, if all
feeling were eliminated from human experience. True, feeling often makes
us suffer; but in so far as life's joys triumph over its woes, do our
feelings minister to our enjoyment. Without sympathy, love, and
appreciation, life would be barren indeed. Moreover, it is only through
our own emotional experience that we are able to interpret the feeling
side of the lives about us. Failing in this, we miss one of the most
significant phases of social experience, and are left with our own
sympathies undeveloped and our life by so much impoverished.
The interpretation of the subtler emotions of those about us is in no
small degree an art. The human face and form present a constantly
changing panorama of the soul's feeling states to those who can read
their signs. The ability to read the finer feelings, which reveal
themselves in expression too delicate to be read by the eye of the gross
or unsympathetic observer, lies at the basis of all fine interpretation
of personality. Feelings are often too deep for outward expression, and
we are slow to reveal our deepest selves to those who cannot appreciate
and understand them.
HOW EMOTIONS DEVELOP.--Emotions are to be cultivated as the intellect or
the muscles are to be cultivated; namely, through proper exercise. Our
thought is to dwell on those things to which proper emotions attach, and
to shun lines which would suggest emotions of an undesirable type.
Emotions which are to be developed must, as has already been said, find
expression; we must act in response to their leadings, else they become
but idle vaporings. If love prompts us to say a kind word to a suffering
fellow mortal, the word must be spoken or the feeling itself fades away.
On the other hand, the emotions which we wish to suppress are to be
refused expression. The unkind and cutting word is to be left unsaid
when we are angry, and the fear of things which are harmless left
unexpressed and thereby doomed to die.
THE EMOTIONAL FACTOR IN OUR ENVIRONMENT.--Much material for the
cultivation of our emotions lies in the everyday life all about us if we
can but interpret it. Few indeed of those whom we meet daily but are
hungering for appreciation and sympathy. Lovable traits exist in every
character, and will reveal themselves to the one who looks for them.
Miscarriages of justice abound on all sides, and demand our indignation
and wrath and the effort to right the wrong. Evil always exists to be
hated and suppressed, and dangers to be feared and avoided. Human life
and the movement of human affairs constantly appeal to the feeling side
of our nature if we understand at all what life and action mean.
A certain blindness exists in many people, however, which makes our own
little joys, or sorrows, or fears the most remarkable ones in the world,
and keeps us from realizing that others may feel as deeply as we. Of
course this self-centered attitude of mind is fatal to any true
cultivation of the emotions. It leads to an emotional life which lacks
not only breadth and depth, but also perspective.
LITERATURE AND THE CULTIVATION OF THE EMOTIONS.--In order to increase
our facility in the interpretation of the emotions through teaching us
what to look for in life and experience, we may go to literature. Here
we find life interpreted for us in the ideal by masters of
interpretation; and, looking through their eyes, we see new depths and
breadths of feeling which we had never before discovered. Indeed,
literature deals far more in the aggregate with the feeling side than
with any other aspect of human life. And it is just this which makes
literature a universal language, for the language of our emotions is
more easily interpreted than that of our reason. The smile, the cry, the
laugh, the frown, the caress, are understood all around the world among
all peoples. They are universal.
There is always this danger to be avoided, however. We may become so
taken up with the overwrought descriptions of the emotions as found in
literature or on the stage that the common humdrum of everyday life
around us seems flat and stale. The interpretation of the writer or the
actor is far beyond what we are able to make for ourselves, so we take
their interpretation rather than trouble ourselves to look in our own
environment for the material which might appeal to our emotions. It is
not rare to find those who easily weep over the woes of an imaginary
person in a book or on the stage unable to feel sympathy for the real
suffering which exists all around them. The story is told of a lady at
the theater who wept over the suffering of the hero in the play; and at
the moment she was shedding the unnecessary tears, her own coachman,
whom she had compelled to wait for her in the street, was frozen to
death. Our seemingly prosaic environment is full of suggestions to the
emotional life, and books and plays should only help to develop in us
the power rightly to respond to these suggestions.
HARM IN EMOTIONAL OVEREXCITEMENT.--Danger may exist also in still
another line; namely, that of emotional overexcitement. There is a great
nervous strain in high emotional tension. Nothing is more exhausting
than a severe fit of anger; it leaves its victim weak and limp. A severe
case of fright often incapacitates one for mental or physical labor for
hours, or it may even result in permanent injury. The whole nervous tone
is distinctly lowered by sorrow, and even excessive joy may be harmful.
In our actual, everyday life, there is little danger from emotional
overexcitement unless it be in the case of fear in children, as was
shown in the discussion on instincts, and in that of grief over the loss
of objects that are dear to us. Most of our childish fears we could just
as well avoid if our elders were wiser in the matter of guarding us
against those that are unnecessary. The griefs we cannot hope to escape,
although we can do much to control them. Long-continued emotional
excitement, unless it is followed by corresponding activity, gives us
those who weep over the wrongs of humanity, but never do anything to
right them; who are sorry to the point of death over human suffering,
but cannot be induced to lend their aid to its alleviation. We could
very well spare a thousand of those in the world who merely feel, for
one who acts, James tells us.
We should watch, then, that our good feelings do not simply evaporate as
feelings, but that they find some place to apply themselves to
accomplish good; that we do not, like Hamlet, rave over wrongs which
need to be righted, but never bring ourselves to the point where we take
a hand in their righting. If our emotional life is to be rich and deep
in its feeling and effective in its results on our acts and character,
it must find its outlet in deeds.
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