We are all a gooey sack of emotions. Apparently, people that don’t express their emotions tend to be very emotional on the inside. And we can all agree those that are emo all the time tend to be very annoying, on the outside. This makes understanding emotions and people that display them insanely complex.
Over the centuries, our preferred way of expressing emotions didn’t change much. This, in fact, was key evidence for Darwin’s theory of evolution. While much of the early study on emotions was through facial expressions, science people later discovered psychological changes triggered the whole process. This was as recent as the 1900’s.
A century later, thanks to the world at large going batty over this phenomenon called happiness, we understood a key component of emotions: the community. We found out the characteristics of our community and culture played a big part in our psychology and how we expressed emotions.
Some of the ways people expressed emotions were so unique to their culture and community. And a lot of these emotions made no sense.
During my travels, I ran into a middle-aged Indian couple on a Train. In a foreign land, this is kind of like a big moment that can lead to oh-shit-not-you-again avoidance or oh-how-much-I-missed-you enthusiasm. I got both. The man settled in a far corner on the other side with a newspaper, clearly indicating thanks-but-no-thanks.
The lady reacted like a little girl that just spotted her best friend. We started talking. She told me about her kids in the said foreign land, the places she visited, the general blandness of the food, and how much she missed being back in India.
I distressed her by telling her I had been traveling alone for a few weeks, pointed at my backpack when she asked me about my luggage, told her I didn’t have a return ticket when she asked me when I was heading back; what affected her most however was the fact that I had had carrots for lunch.
She eventually recovered and was telling me the things she did as a kid, and how she wished she had done something like this when she was my age, but couldn’t because she was married and her first kid was two. Which reminds her: when was I going to get married?
I told her marriage was a torturous institution invented to fulfill and expose humanity’s perverse desires and only results in the dulling of human capacity and thinking leading eventually to a slow death of the senses. Just kidding. I told her, I would marry soon.
She told me she had been married for over twenty years. I gaped at her and then looked at the man who was now chomping on some food – far away from any conversation, far into the pages of his newspaper.
She then told me the man, her husband hadn’t spoken to her in three years.
She said it so casually and randomly that it took me a while to see the sadness that had enveloped her. The little-girl-enthusiasm was replaced by a heavy unique-only-to-adulthood loneliness.
Yeah. Conversations like these are not normal where I come from. But vulnerability is where pain and suffering go to heal. It transcends communal barriers. The irony of the marriage question was not lost on me.
As I looked at the man again, everything fell into place: the community. How had I missed this all along?
While the research on happiness may stress the importance of community, it leaves out the process involved in clearing the debris of madness left behind by generations in this community.
My community and culture, not unlike many others, has been rooted in patriarchy. To a large extent, it still is. It worked out all right when we were fighting wars. But now, with emotions and stuff, it’s kinda messed up.
Because, in case you didn’t know, men are shitty exemplars of emotions. When it comes to expressing emotions, most men are somewhere between a hungry child refusing to put on a sweater on a cold day, and a sedated rock.
In the community, the emotional state of the household largely depended on the man of the house. And for a long time, the emotional function of man was to silence the song in the woman’s heart.
This has led him to birth some bizarre emotions: Refusing to eat; refusing to talk; avoiding physical contact; ferocious physical contact; not responding when the woman tries to make conversation – and then, as if nothing happened, start being normal again; disappear for a while without notice; get drunk, or scream his face off.
All common forms of expressing he is upset. All debris left behind.
When you objectively think about it, not talking to the other person is the worst way to express your emotion. And yet we do that all the time. It’s not ego. It’s a message passed on across generations. Because we have been led to believe it accomplishes something. That it’s sending out a statement: I am angry, I am upset, I need attention!
The statement it really sends out is that: I am a child that refuses to grow up. And most of these statements we try to make through these shitty strategies aren’t understood till it’s too late. And by that time, you are like dying and you now want to have a lengthy conversation with someone you ignored all these years and this makes everyone emo and it’s all so very painful.
We need to seriously question the ways we choose to express emotions. Sure, a lot of it is evolutionary and psychological, but most of it is so thoughtless, lacking in meaning and ugly ancestral vestige. Unfortunately, the globalization of emotions has left my generation with a bigger problem: Emotions for us have become more commercial than communal.
While online communities spell freedom and as fewer songs are being silenced, more and more people are feeling choked at the hands of expectation, approval, and insecurity.
There is no single answer to this. We are shocked into disbelief by some of the cultural norms that existed before us that we fail to see we aren’t any different now. We are just better at pretending things have changed.
The way we choose to express emotions can’t render love and hope meaningless. If we don’t grow out of traditional ideas of expressing emotions, not to mention the current trends — we are headed straight at a brick wall of mad debris held together by shallow emotions.
When the wall comes crumbling down on you, you will cry but you won’t be able to feel a thing. You will be alive, yet deader.
I saw the emotional wound this had left on the lady that day. I wanted to punch the man, but I just sat there quietly. The lady told me she had never spoken so much in years, and that something about me gave her a feeling she knew me for a long time.
The train arrived at her destination. (Should I punch him now?) I watched him glance at his wife, pick up his luggage, vaguely nod at me and walk toward the exit. The lady blessed me, picked up her luggage, quickly turned her face away and trailed-off behind him. I stood there embarrassed because she wasn’t quick enough. I caught the tears. It would take me six months to cry. It feels like I know her for a long time.
I watched them leave: so together, yet so broken.
There are some things time can’t heal.
Only you can.