I still remember sitting in my freshman seminar class, on one of the last days before finals exams started. My peers and I were to go around the room, discussing what we had learned through the year and what had been most impactful for us. Somewhere through the discussion, I turned to our professor and asked him what his one quote, his main advice, for us would be. After pausing and thinking for a moment he responded, “allow yourself to be affected by emotion.”
I think there is a lot of value in that message. Allow yourself to be affect by emotion. In Western society people are constantly brought up with the aim of separating themselves from their emotions. Emotions are largely associated with weakness. Feeling, especially feeling emotions outside of “good” emotions, reflects that one is not a concrete wall that things bounce off of. To hide, to suppress emotion, is to be strong. The world and all its ups and downs are there to harden people against the horrible atrocities that happen, for opening up to these, to feel emotions from these hardships, is to waste time and let down one’s guard. Emotions make people uncomfortable.
It’s odd, really, that emotions have that capacity. To be uncomfortable is an emotion in and of itself. Yet, as humans, people get uncomfortable when emotions other than “good” emotions are expressed, shown, or felt. It’s as though people are expected to live in a constant state of happiness all the time. However, the world doesn’t work that way. I’ve never seen people that are always happy, that always experience “good” emotions. Even the happiest people I know feel sad and deeply upset at times. Everyone knows this state of everlasting happiness doesn’t last though. Happiness doesn’t exist on its own. It, just like everything else, exists in relation to other things. Without bad times and bad emotions there can’t be good times and good emotions. It is only through this relationship of happiness and sadness that people can feel happiness. It’s why people are so resilient –as a species the main thing humans have going for them is adaptability and the capacity to make do with any situation. For humans live in a comparative society where relationships exist and when in bad times good times can be imagined, and when good times only exist in relation to the hardships that have been experienced. Hell, its even why stories have plot and appeal to us as humans, as Kurt Vonnegut so artfully explains.
Despite this, Western society has this aim of eradicating feeling of emotions, though only the bad ones. Which is why it so important to allow yourself to be affected by emotion – to embrace the good and the bad emotions and get uncomfortable. To truly sit in, to truly feel sadness, embarrassment, every emotion; getting knocked down only allows us to feel more human. To be human is to feel, to be alive, to grow. We all have such a brilliant capacity in us to feel alive through embracing the emotions we feel. Yes, it will hurt at times. Yes, being sad happens, but damn is it amazing to really know you exist by feeling something, anything.
I have learned more in the past year about myself through being in deep states of lowered self worth and times of sadness. My framework for what matters has significantly changed, something I’m not sure I would have recognized by being a constant state of happiness. Being in these states definitely sucked at times, but I knew I was alive. I was feeling something, not just being a placid piece of mass moving through time. Just know that it is okay to feel things. To not feel is to not be human, to not take risks and get upset, to not be uncomfortable, is to be boring. One of the things that attracts me to people more than anything else is to see how passionate they are about anything. Passionate to the degree that they care about things, get emotional about their goals and risk it all. Embracing emotions shows that you care about the world and about yourself.
Allow yourself to be affected by emotion, because by feeling emotion is how you know you exist, it is how you grow, it is how you find out who you are.
Thank you Professor Donovan for being the catalyst for letting me begin to realize this.