Thursday, 16 May 2013


There are so many books written about "The Emotions" that it is obvious that it is a topic about which there is plenty to say and a huge appetite for understanding; this is evident from the "self help" publications as well as the philosophical explorations.

Emotion is a part of our individual make-up.  We cannot feel someone else's emotion, nor can we convey exactly the nature of our own emotion.  It requires a leap of that imaginative understanding that we call empathy in order to come anywhere near another individual's experience of his emotion.  Perhaps that is why the work of poets, painters, dramatists, letter writers, novelists, musicians and song writers tug at our heart strings, because they touch that intensely private area of the emotions and we become "emotional".

Some experiences in life are labelled "emotional" such as a birth, a death, a marriage, a break up, an accident, illness or redundancy.  The stoics advised us to bear them with fortitude and to avoid becoming too attached to persons, places, objects, health or status.  If we are not "attached" any loss is theoretically less painful.

Cicero found no comfort in philosophical theory when his daughter died.

Indeed we are informed that Cicero divorced his young wife because she was insufficiently sympathetic about the death of his daughter.

So it would seem that anger and a wish to spread the hurt feelings are as much a part of grief as is sorrow.  In the same way, at happy times we often wish to spread the joy around and to be easy going and relaxed around other people.

For me the essential point to make is that the irrational component of emotion needs to be kept under strict control.  It is OK my friend (Cicero, Medea, Othello) to feel wretched and abandoned and lost and I feel sad for you when you do.  It is not OK to behave badly; to shout or to strike out at others.  It will not make you feel any better and it is very hurtful to those around.  No use later saying, "I did not mean it", or that you, "..loved not wisely but too well ... being wrought, perplexed in the extreme..... threw a pearl away."

Control of our emotions is what we need to teach children and is the example we need to set. Quite young children are now being excluded from school because their behaviour is "out of control."  It is frightening for the other children around and it is undoubtedly frightening for the child to feel in the grip of such frenzy.

I am aware yet again of "preaching to the converted" and so I am going to turn this over to you now.

How do you feel about the power of the emotions?  What are your theories about how to handle  emotion?  What does Emotional Intelligence mean to you?  How do you see the space between free expression and emotional literacy?  How can we help parents to prepare children for the experience of strong emotions and to find ways to bear them without disturbing others or harming themselves?

If you have anything you to say about emotion I would love to read it.


  1. It is such a fine balance though, isn't it, June? I agree that experiencing other people's strong emotions can be uncomfortable & even frightening but watching other people's joy & happiness can be so wonderful too. Teaching children how to control their emotions is fair enough so that they don't disrupt classes or upset other children but we have to take care surely not to teach them that experiencing all emotion is wrong? Watching a child's joy is such a special thing. My concern is that as a nation we tend to subdue any show of emotion & I find that sad. isn't it wonderful to hear someone talk passionately about something they love or believe in? Isn't it a privilege when someone shares with us their pain or fears?
    Yes emotions can cause us terrible pain & make us really unhappy but isn't that because we care so much? And is that caring a negative thing? Emotions are what make us human - let's celebrate them too.

  2. Have you given up, June? It's been a while since you wrote on your blog. I've missed them.

    If she starts again, people, please comment!