Humans are emotional beings. Although we know that, we do very little to increase our emotional competence, even today, after all the insights of the postmodern culture. So should we be more emotional and behave in emotional ways? Let’s think about it.
In early stages of cultural development, in feudal societies in the past and today, being emotional and impulsive is completely normal. If somebody doesn’t behave the right way, others, who are or believe to be more powerful or stronger, don’t think twice before the push a knife between your ribs or torture you to death. They can bring forth some rationalisations about why they do it: because you have offended someone, worldly powerful people, the representants of God on earth, or just a strong guy in the subway This is enough for an ego-centered human being to justify his attack on you, even if it kills you. No problem.
Humanity made huge efforts to contain this raw power and impulsiveness in humans by teaching them rules about the value of life and that nobody has the right to kill another human being. Well, although well embodied in Western cultures, people still find a work-around to passionately fight and kill others by declaring “the other” inferior, not a real human being. Thus in totalitarian regimes people with the inclination to act out their aggressiveness get a justification of doing “the right thing” by ways of their inhuman ideology.
Certainly, the expression of the emotions channeled by rules of behaviour can also lead to their suppression. But at least people can live together relatively peaceful, without killing each other because of a wrong word or a unfortunate action. The rise of science and technology or the battle for success in direct competition wouldn’t have been possible with everyone expressing directly their anger or contempt. Only with the rise of the postmodern age, people realised their being cut off from their emotions and they claim them back. And that is good.
Handling emotions well
Now, how will we express our emotions today, after we have -to our surprise-, re-discovered that we have them,? Shall we go back and fight against anybody who “hurts our feelings”? Or have we grown into something more sophisticated? Have we learned when to show our emotions, why and how? This is certainly a question where everyone has to find their own answers. Here is where “emotional intelligence” comes in: Learning to handle the own emotions wisely. Not suppressing them, realising that they are there, but remaining their master. With other words: having the decision power if we express them and, if we chose to do so, in what form.
Which emotions are culturally accepted
When a man is in tears in a public setting, there will still be those who consider that as weakness, but others recognize it as strength to be in contact with the feelings and express them even when the culture has different norms. When a woman is openly aggressive, well, that is not yet seen as desirable, and it probably isn’t. Not because she is a woman, but open aggressive behaviour is ugly in both men and women. When a woman gets angry, that can be the result of a long struggle to integrate anger and to unlock it from the substitute feeling of sadness, which culture had allowed for women in former times, but not anger.
The power of genuine emotions
In my life as a women brought up in a conservative world, anger and aggressiveness was not appreciated although it happened to me in my attempted defense against two older brothers. Later in life I discovered that genuine anger is a good tool to make myself understood. When a hunter shot his bullets in a way that I heard them fall on my roof, I ran up the hill and shouted on him so that he never came back. I must have developed the quality of the Goddess Kali, I was glad of my success and knew there was a “secret weapon” in genuinely expressed anger.
I don’t use my anger very often, but sometimes I really get triggered and cannot allow that stupidity is declared as truth about the world – as happened to me a few days ago in a conversation circle. In these cases, I always have the choice to stay silent or to interfere. When I decide to speak up, my passion can be clearly understood, although the words might not be. Maybe that I become so passionate about hearing things from the mouth of others which I believed time ago myself and of which I have now understood how ignorant, even stupid and dangerous they are?
The necessary learning
Well, there are still many things to learn: how to be passionate and clear at the same time? How to use the right words and not fall into old competitive behavior, how to measure the amount of emotion to express and when to stop. All things which virtually everybody of us has still to learn, independent if they are grown in a traditional household, or in a modern or a postmodern one. In all of these settings there are tabus around feelings, there is suppression of certain feelings and favorisation of others. Until we become masters in living our feelings without being lived by them, much water will still run down the river, as we say in Germany.