Can Emotions Be Controlled?

The most mysterious aspect of a human’s universe does not lie in the farthest reaches of outer space. Nor is it found on the stretch of the Atlantic Ocean that seems to swallow unfortunate voyagers like a space-time warp. Instead, it is located inside the human skull, and is the seed of all human thoughts and consciousness. It is of course, the human brain. Within this brain, is the human mind, a dangerous tool, for it contains the insomniac’s nausea: emotions. For centuries Mankind has tried without success to tame this beast. From Plato to Nietzsche, the advocacy of reason controlling unruly emotion has baffled brilliant minds. Yet the question still remains: how much happier would we be, how much more successful as individuals and civil as a society, if we could control our emotions?

To control emotions, we must first recognize them. However, emotions so often appear in disguise. A person in mourning may know he is sad, but may not recognize that he is also angry at the deceased ­-because this seems culturally inappropriate. The mother who yells at her child for running in the street is expressing anger at disobedience, but the degree of anger may owe to her fear of the unknown. Self awareness, therefore, is perhaps the most crucial ability since it allows us to exercise self-control. However, to exhibit self-control does not necessarily mean to suppress emotions and feelings, but rather to do what Aristotle considered the hard work of the will: “Anyone can become angry­- that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way ­- that is not easy”

A Herculean task if you ask me. Most decisions we make, have a vast number of possible outcomes and such an attempt to analyze all of them, with neutrality, would be nearly impossible. However, emotions such as a somatic response to a dark alley help limit the field of any choice we have to make. Moreover, anxiety on the night of a calculus or cell biology exam may lead to a sleepless night, however, worrying is a rehearsal for danger; the act of fretting, undoubtedly, focuses the mind on a problem so it can search efficiently for solutions. On the other hand, the danger comes when worrying blocks thinking, and the path to perseverance.

Ultimately, the problem is that controlling emotions does not necessarily end with a happily ever after. Someone with great empathic insight could use his emotional skills to inspire colleagues or exploit them. Without a moral compass to guide people in how to employ their gifts, emotional intelligence can be used for good or evil. Thus, this brings us to the question of morality and what effect ethics has on our exhibition of emotion. However, that is another post, and another debate.