The sleeve is not the best place to wear one's heart, yet many of us do. But one of the problems of leaving the heart so exposed is that it is difficult to shield it from almost any assault on the emotions. There are men of iron, and men of steel. Because I am unable to hide my emotions, I am a man of marshmallow.
I absolutely love, and respond deeply to, displays of kindness and bravery and nobility in the face of adversity--and even more strongly when these displays are spontaneous. I find people behaving nobly...especially in large numbers...to be intensely moving, and validation for my often-sorely-challenged faith in humanity. Mass displays of patriotism, such as The Boston Pops orchestra playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" in front of a hundred thousand people on the 4th of July, never fails to grab me by the throat. As a member of a long persecuted minority, I find attending a gay pride parade, surrounded by tens of thousands of my own kind, euphoric.
One of the earliest and most harmful-to-the-spirit lessons every male child is taught is that "Men Don't Cry!" As a result, men feel compelled to repress their emotions, thus depriving themselves of the cathartic effect the release of pent-up tensions which can lead to heart attack and other serious physical problems. The sight of grown men crying will, eight times out of ten, cause me to tear up.
Perhaps oddly, disasters have long been an obsession for me, not for the pain and sorrow they inflict, but for how they inevitably draw out the finest of human qualities seldom seen under other circumstances.
Of course, emotions, like fire, make a good servant but a harsh master. Positive emotions, even those which come about through sorrow and grief, channeled productively, immeasurably enrich the human condition. Negative emotions, run amok--as seen too often in rioting and looting and indiscriminate destruction--revert us to the level of beasts.
I would like to believe it is a certain innate nobility in us which makes us somehow expect everyone to behave not only decently but nobly. And when, on those seemingly rare occasions when they do, it reinforces our belief in the goodness of humanity. Unfortunately, it only takes one rotten apple in a barrel to make us cautious about revealing our true emotions too readily to others lest we be taken advantage of. And equally unfortunate, our world is a gigantic barrel and there are far more than one rotten apple in it. It takes only one person who betrays our trust or takes advantage of us to make us leery of even the best motives of everyone else. The more trusting we are, the more hurt we are when that trust is betrayed.
I grow angry, and furious, and disheartened when people behave other than the way I think they should behave, with the result--as you have seen frequently in these blogs--that I am too often angry, furious, and disheartened.
As a marshmallow man, it truly pains me that we seem to be drowning in a tsunami of lies and deceit and avarice and cruelty and wars and irresolvable conflicts. To turn on the evening news or pick up a newspaper or magazine, it often seems next to impossible to swim against this tide of negativism. Even being fully aware of the fact that it's the bad things that get the headlines, it is still difficult to deal with. I fear even Pollyanna might become a bit jaded over time.
Yet there is a fascination in crowds whose mood and purpose is upbeat. Any parade, especially with marching bands--the drums echoing the beating of the heart--lifts the soul. Any large gathering of people in public places can demonstrate the power of positive emotion. The theater is one of humanity's nobler inventions. Dramas teach us understanding of the human condition, comedies lift our spirits and often put life in perspective. Musical theater, since it is less bound by reality than a dramatic play, allows us to enter worlds that don't exist, but that we wish would. Each has the power to unite us, and the sense of unity is one of the most powerful of human emotions.
There are those who rule their emotions, and those whose emotions rule them. As in all things in life, a balance between the two is the ideal. I'm working on it.
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