In which we learn discrimination
CHOOSING OUR EMOTIONS
LIKING THE TASTE
It was a summer evening by the seaside, and a group of us were sitting on the porch, having a sort of heart-to-heart talk about psychology,—which means, of course, that we were talking about ourselves. One by one the different members of the family spoke out the questions that had been troubling them, or brought up their various problems of character or of health. At length a splendid Red Cross nurse who had won medals for distinguished service in the early days of the war, broke out with the question: “Doctor, how can I get rid of my terrible temper? Sometimes it is very bad, and always it has been one of the trials of my life.” She spoke earnestly and sincerely, but this was my answer: “You like your temper. Something in you enjoys it, else you would give it up.” Her face was a study in astonishment. “I don’t like it,” she stammered; “always after I have had an outburst of anger I am in the depths of remorse. Many a time I have cried my eyes out over this very thing.” “And you like that, too,” I answered. “You are having an emotional spree, indulging yourself first in one kind of emotion and then in another. If you really hated it as much as you say you do, you would never allow yourself the indulgence, much less speak of it afterward.” Her astonishment was still further increased when several of the group said they, too, had sensed her satisfaction with her moods.
Hard as it is to believe, we do choose our emotions. We like emotion as we do salt in our food, and too often we choose it because something in us likes the savor, and not because it leads to the character or the conduct that we know to be good.
THE POWER OF CHOICE
Whether we believe it or not, and whether we like it or not, the fact remains that we ourselves decide which of all the possible emotions we shall choose, or we decide not to press the button for any emotion at all.
To a very large extent man, if he knows how and really wishes, may select the emotion which is suitable in that it leads to the right conduct, has a beneficial effect on the body, adapts him to his social environment, and makes him the kind of man he wants to be.
=The Test of Feeling.= The psychologist to-day has a sure test of character. He says in substance: “Tell me what you feel and I will tell you what you are. Tell me what things you love, what things you fear, and what makes you angry and I will describe with a fair degree of accuracy your character, your conduct, and a good deal about the state of your physical health.”