Clean, Fierce Rage & Other Strong Emotions

Interesting piece by Julian Baggini in the Sydney Morning Herald Today about anger. And more generally about the value of emotion, and why we shouldn't be afraid to have emotions, even the ones that have been increasingly classified as negative, such as anger.

Baggini writes:

One reason why it has become harder to promote the beneficial side of emotions such as anger is that the moral vocabulary of good and bad has been replaced by the self-help lexicon of positive and negative thinking. Armed with such pop-psychology, it's easy to convince ourselves we are emotionally literate, when in fact we're just using crude rules of thumb to gloss over the complexities of the human psyche.

This immediately reminded me of something DH Lawrence wrote nearly 100 years ago now, in his essay "Education of the People". Lawrence was a superlative essayist, though the novels seem more laboured. Very like Shaw in many ways, the dramatic work ended up sounding a bit didactic, a lot of the time. But an extraordinary thinker - as Bertrand Russell said, Lawrence nearly always got things right, even though he's been read through the eyes of moralists and anti-moralists ever since, both of whom missed much of the point of what he was saying, assuming he had sexual hang-ups and what have you - everybody's a therapist. With the background of the essays the novels take on a very different hue.

Anyway, Lawrence talks about anger in parenthood in this way:

Why are we so afraid of anger, of wrath, and clean, fierce rage? What cowardice possesses us? Why would we reduce a child to a nervous, irritable wreck, rather than spank it wholesomely? Why do we make such a fuss about a row? A row, a fierce storm in a family is a natural and healthy thing, which we ought even to have the courage to enjoy and exult in, as we can enjoy and exult in a storm of the elements.

Anger does seem to have become a 'wrong' emotion. To be fixed in the thinking - always this fascination with thinking. Thinking is said to to be at the centre of our existence, but it would say that - it wants us to 'think' that. Thinking is like a proliferating, self-replicating virus. When we are properly angry, it's the entirely appropriate response to have. But the thinking schools are a bit wary of this - for them strong emotion is untrustworthy, it takes one away from rationality and control. Life needs to be 'understood' to be lived properly. For thinking calm understanding is the ideal.

The LearningMethods work I've written about previously here is another in a long line of thinking traditions. While it does (correctly) recognise that any feeling or emotion is part of a wider pattern of a person's life, the epicentre of the work always returns to peoples' heads, into their thinking. So people apparently need to analyse and dissect the feelings they're having, laying them out on the table and figuring out why this feeling or emotion is occurring, so that the intellect can then guide them into more appropriate responses.

Personally I would say that you can keep that essential insight that a feeling or emotion is always part of a wider pattern in a person's life, without then needing to 'think' about it. In my experience people struggle with their emotions and feelings when they isolate them out of these patterns and treat them as independent entities. One is sad, rather than sad about something. Depression is the logical outcome of that, where the sadness is focused upon to such an extent that it becomes the entire experiential field, missing all of the context of its appearance. But to plug these emotions back in doesn't need thought, it just needs them to be experienced again, from within the context that they occur.

Once that's done it becomes immediately and experientially obvious where they fit, and where they don't. No thinking needed at all.


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