Necessity, dependence and emotions

There are certain biological necessities: we must eat, drink and sleep. We cannot live long (and certainly not well) without satisfying these basic needs. There are also certain pleasures in extension of them: eating refined meals, drinking good wine, and so on. With these things it's different - they are an extra, coming on top of those necessities. We may appreciate them, and try to arrange our lives so that we have the pleasure of them often, but that doesn't mean we think of them as indispensable. When the circumstances of our lives change and we get less of them (even, in extreme cases, none of them anymore), we might think of that as an impoverishment, but not the end of our world.

That's the sensible attitude, anyway. Some people, though, seem to feel stronger about these things. They actually value them so much that they have problems accepting to let them go when the situation calls for it. (They might even consider acting against their own better knowledge, contrary to their own best interests, to moral or in extreme cases legal considerations; perhaps not normally for a good bottle of wine, but think of drug addiction as an obvious example.) It's not so difficult to imagine such a situation. Think of the lover of great cooking who is invited to a gala dinner (known to him to be prepared by a famous chef), but whose aunt has been admitted to a hospital earlier the same day, with some severe illness. He can only go to one place in the evening - how will he choose? If he opts for the dinner, that tells us something about his character, doesn't it?

This is no longer just a preference, it's dependence (in the sense that we treat something as if our well-being depended on it). It's another way we stop deciding for ourselves - we are inclined to choose some course of action, just because of our fear of losing (or hope of gaining) that preferred, or rather depended on, thing. (Dependence of that sort also opens us to blackmail, or at least may make us prone to give in to others who can influence whether we get what we depend on.)

If we look at it the other way round, we can learn something interesting about the emotions here, too. People get emotional about those extras precisely to the extent they depend on them, rather than just viewing them as extras. They may become afraid of losing them, or entertain hopes of gaining some more of them, or feel pleasure just in anticipating them. Contrast this with the person who takes the sensible stance. She may also go for the extras when they are available, but will as well live without them when they aren't. She won't get emotional about these things: knowing their proper value, there won't be any fear or wild anticipation with respect to them.

Interestingly, then, these emotions indicate an error of judgment: taking something as more valuable than one should take it. Looking at that thing with a realistic view of its value, would simply make the emotion disappear. (Although the over-estimation may be so deeply entrenched with some people that it would be hard for them to ever get to that point.)

Then what about emotions that we might have about threats to our health, or bodily integrity? What's in question then is not an extra, but one of the more basic needs I mentioned. Does that make a difference? Well, it's certainly a different sort of case. But still, remember that at least in some instances, people have valued the lives of their children, the freedom of their country, or justice and truth high enough not to compromise it just for avoiding physical pain, or death. Take care.

Rely on your own judgment

Something bad has come up. But wait - how did you learn about it? And who says it's bad? Have you analyzed the situation yourself and come to that conclusion? Or did someone tell you, and you have just been infected by their mood?

If something bad is to expect, first convince yourself that it really is imminent, and that it is bad. You need to listen exclusively to your own judgment there. (Or, if you feel your knowledge and experience doesn't allow for a sufficiently well-founded judgment, then ask someone whom you trust; but again, you are the judge of who that should be - it shouldn't be just the first person who happens to talk to you.) More often than not, things may be bad - but not actually for you, but for someone else, who wants to get you involved; or things may be bad - potentially, in a few days (or weeks), but not yet; or things may be on a bad track - but you can still take corrective measures. All this must be considered before you give in to some feeling.

Thinking about it is a good idea, even if you indeed come to the conclusion that something unfavorable is emerging. By getting it into the open daylight you gain control: it is the unknown, the unclear and uncertain which provokes doubt and speculation about the real extent of what's going on.

You have to practice this: constantly monitor yourself and check whether your opinions, hopes and worries really are your own - or someone else's. Take care.

Old age

Imagine: You are old. Your body is frail; you're slow and every movement hurts; you have to think twice before taking any action, but even thinking about them is an effort. If you do something out of an impulse, you feel the consequences, often immediately, and you wish you hadn't done it. Sometimes you can't remember things; sometimes you are told you remember them incorrectly (and you can't tell, however hard you try). When younger people talk about their lives you're not able to follow; you often don't even know their meaning: words you haven't heard, things you haven't known in your day.

But there are compensations. You are relieved from all those desires and passions that pushed you around, captivated your mind and often brought you to do things you regretted later. The craving for all joys imaginable has stopped. There isn't much to be in your future - the only thing still to happen is death; if you live to see the next day, that's an extra, not something to expect. (If you get it, it's fine, if you don't, it doesn't make much difference any more.)

You don't have to wait for high age to have this comfort. (And how could you be certain to reach that age anyway?) What prevents you from taking the same attitude at once? After all, can you really be sure your next day won't be your last? Would it not be good to rid yourself of those desires and passions now? There is no necessity to let only a fading strength force you to adopt a point of view that benefits you. If you think about it, you may find good reason to decide yourself. Take care.

Voluntary control

Is it a plausible ideal (or a plausible goal that one might set for oneself) to appear completely immovable, indifferent and entirely in control to everybody? To show no emotions and look as if nothing at all could disturb one's mind?

Even if one works very hard to achieve this, it is extremely difficult to reach that goal. I think most people would also think of it as very unnatural; certainly others would feel uneasy in encounters with you if you built up such a cold, inscrutable facade.
But we have to distinguish between two versions: one would be a mere facade, with the ability to really hide everything that goes on behind it; but wouldn't this amount to mere play-acting, a doubtful means of deceit? (And what possible purpose might be behind this, if it wasn't a mean, probably a dishonest one?) The other would be the more extreme case of someone who does not only appear totally unmoved, but actually is. Most probably, this would involve eradicating almost every feeling, and it is doubtful that somebody can do this and still live a fulfilled, or even a normal life.

There are also certain bodily reactions that cannot be suppressed, and in general it would be unwise to do so: often enough they indicate some condition that has not yet reached our consciousness, but which already is recognized by the unconscious, or perhaps instinct. To train oneself to suppress this looks patently unwise. Take care.

Trust in others' reason

I'll give you a direct means for determining how reasonable people think you are: if they dare to leave you to yourself, they think highly of you; if they think they'll better keep a constant eye on you, you're not trusted very far.

As a border case, we take that latter attitude towards mad and insufficiently self-controlled people - we think it's dangerous for us (and for them) not to monitor them. In the other extreme, you can show your high respect for someone by giving them carte blanche in some matter; this will count all the more with them if that matter is of great consequence for you personally.

There is a complication to this. If you don't get that estimation, is this because you're actually not worth it, or because the the person who might have conferred it (but didn't) is misjudging you? And what does it mean that you are 'actually' not worth it? (Is there an independent way to tell, apart from how others treat you?) Also think about how often you yourself confer esteem in this way on others. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.