The movie Saving Private Ryan was over and music played as the credits rolled down the screen. As others left the theatre, I remained seated. For one thing, I enjoy reading people's names and their jobs. Names from all over this earth are part of the intriguing mosaic that is America and the plethora of jobs involved in producing a major movie keeps astounding me. More than for the names and jobs, though, I remained to momentarily live with the emotions churned up by the movie. The movies I choose to view touch deep places within me: love and death, betrayal and sacrifice, hopes enduring and despair prevailing. With the film credits ending and the ushers picking up, I finally moved myself to the foyer.
Consciously lingering with an emotion is something I am learning late in life. Much of my emotional training took place at the neighborhood pickup baseball and hockey games. The visible disgust of the other boys and the pointed words of "sissy" and "acting like a girl" (a distinction, I find, that goes back as far as Plato) meant keeping pain, tears and anger to oneself. The forward movement of the game pushed one's personal emotions to the background. I learned strong emotions were to be suppressed and denied. Later I learned to rationalize them.
Then, in the 60s and 70s, we took a pendulum swing to expressing our emotions. "Letting it all hang out" was the measure of a nonuptight person. Sensitivity groups encouraged people to remove their masks and gave permission to express whatever emotion was bubbling within, no matter how it might hurt another person. If another person was hurt, "that was their problem." Unrestrained emotions now infect sports-from professionals to parents of Little Leaguers. "Road rage" and "loss of civility" label this unrestrained emotional behavior.
Given the force and destructiveness of our passions, it is strange that we give so little thought to properly understanding and disciplining them. Differentiating and analyzing emotions is not taught alongside parsing sentences and dissecting the Civil War. We have grade levels for reading and math but not for understanding and dealing with anger. When do we-both children and adults-learn to handle our emotions as mature adults?
Does sitting in the darkened theater after the movie mean
I have moved ahead a grade in my emotional development? Or, may
it be that I am discovering what the English physician Henry Plotkin
suggested: "Emotions are postcards from our genes telling
us in a direct and nonsymbolic manner about life and death?"
--Robert H. Tucker
5 October 1998