But how do you feel?

So I’m thinking today about emotions, and about conformity.

Which has probably been addressed in other, more philosophical ways, but I’m going to write this one down anyway. ‘Cause for a society that says that it’s okay to feel what you feel, and that we should be emotionally honest, and that we should express our emotions, we seem to be really, really bad at it.

For one, we get a few things wrong. We take our emotions as some kind of excuse to be rude, or obnoxious, or unpleasant. Being upset or angry is no reason to be rude, any more than being happy or romantic or mischievous. Respect for other people doesn’t just evaporate when we feel strongly about them. They’re still people. As people, they deserve some basic measure of respect. I may be upset or overexcited, but that is no reason to cut people off in traffic, or say rude things to the lady behind the counter. Even when the other person is the reason we’re mad. Especially when the other person is the reason we’re mad. Sure, it feels good for a moment, but I know for myself that I feel even worse afterwards. And I have solved nothing.

And I’m still angry.

Better that I should channel it. Some of my best essays get written ’cause I’m angry. I get articulate. And then I have tackled the problem itself without making it worse. And some of my anger is gone. Or sadness, as the case may be. Or anxiety. (Y’know, maybe my professors should have tried making me angry. They would have gotten twelve-page, thoroughly-researched, methodically-reasoned rants.) When I’m happy, when marvellous things have happened, I can make of them a poem or a song, or I can write random silly things on my journal, or link to weird websites. Without being rude of obnoxious.

Yet we go the other way too. We bury our emotions. Not in the interest of being stoic, either, but to blend in. I’ve been the sad one in a crowd of happy people. I’ve also been the happy one in the crowd of sad people. It’s equally weird. And we get this idea that maybe there’s something wrong with us for not feeling the same emotion. Which makes no sense at all, because we are all different, and have different things going on. Maybe I didn’t know my great uncle all that well, but he did just pass away, and that is sad, because a good and kindly man whom I knew has died, and his good and kindly wife is mourning. And there are my friends, goofing off and having a good time, and while there’s no reason for me to foist my melancholy on them, there’s no reason for them to foist their exuberance on me either, and I reserve the right to be mellow in a corner for a while. I feel sometimes like we’re afraid to “break character”, or that deviating from the norm emotionally is callous, or selfish.

Not if we’re not making the first mistake of being rude about it.

We reserve the right to be happy, and to act happy when we are. We reserve the right to be sad, and to act sad when we are. When I’m hormonal, I reserve the right to hide in my room and (politely) turn people down, because I know I can’t handle it. When I’m wired, I reserve the right to make outlandish word-pictures or quote things nobody knows. When I’m worn out, I reserve the right to go to bed early, and thank my friends for inviting me anyway.

And we need to give people the room to do the same. Because they also have things going on in their lives, that we may not know about, and I think we can have enough grace to know that whatever face their showing us may only be a sliver of the story.