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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