Saturday, December 20, 2008

Stifling Expressions

"The student watched his brother with surprise. He did not know, he who wore his heart on his sleeve, he who observed only the good old law of Nature in the world, he who allowed his passions to follow their inclinations, and in whom the lake of great emotions was always dry, so freely did he let it off each day by fresh drains, he did not know with what fury the sea of human passions ferments and boils when all egress is denied to it, how it accumulates, how it swells, how it overflows, how it hollows out the heart; how it breaks in inward sobs, and dull convulsions, until it has rent its dikes and burst its bed. The austere and glacial envelope of Claude Frollo, that cold surface of steep and inaccessible virtue, had always deceived Jehan. The merry scholar had never dreamed that there was boiling lava, furious and profound, beneath the snowy brow of Aetna.", Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Beautiful words from a stirring book. I'm yet to read another book laden with precious literary and philosophical gems page after deeply moving are the words, that I truly revere the book. This post is not part of the series on the book I'm currently reading. Just a little venting of my own...

Why is it that we have culturally evolved to stifle expressions - especially positive ones? In a "civilized" gathering it is always frowned upon to openly express true happiness, joy or love. Many of us have been strictly raised to be stoic, to not let our emotions seep through our behavior and facial expressions- be it good or bad. I can understand why it is better to calm or repress negative emotions such as anger, jealousy or hatred.

Unbridled expressions of anger tend to result in heat-of-the-moment passion crimes which are mostly regretted when the red film of anger tones down. And it's most certainly "uncivil" if we heard Obama and McCain exchange honest expressions of anger through rude insults, that held the potential to escalate to a physical fight if the parties involved refrained from maintaining the decorum. It is also signifies each others' level of tolerance towards different view points, and their maturity in being able to open their minds and reason passionately, yet fairly so.

But why try to stifle the "good" ones? I realize it's tricky to define good. Aren't all emotions natural? Then why label them as good or bad? In my definition (restricted to this article), "good" implies no harm done; psychological or physical to anyone who is a recipient of the expression. Why then are there hushes when we want to jump up with joy, or yell our throats out to vent our happiness? Why is it looked down upon to see open expressions of love? Why are such open expressions associated with being undignified?

How many of us can freely articulate what we feel, through simple words or gestures? Not me, I know. I can feel the heat from the stern stare of my mom looking down at me with disapproval writ large on her face when I "giggle too much", or I lose myself to share a hearty laugh. I guess the words to focus here are "lose myself"... getting us to vulnerability.

It's sad to realize how many people around me keep stifling their expressions to guard their emotions from "leaking through". This only results in unspoken words, unexpressed gestures that are struggling to be released, yet tightly leashed. Is it only because we are so afraid of being vulnerable if we exposed our true emotions? It's almost like watching all those sci-fi robots and monsters that are seen struggling to exhibit emotions like sadness and love (Kong-Kong for one), when they can so freely vent their violence and anger. Deep down are we all like those monsters struggling to freely express our gentler emotions, when we don't flinch to show our anger and distaste?

Well, in the case of King-Kong he struggled to even realize he had such emotions... their expression is another category I guess. But we humans keep building walls to maintain a stoic exterior that is deceptive of the person's true emotions - just like how Victor Hugo describes Frollo. And I don't understand why culturally we have been taught and conditioned to stifle expressions as pure and refreshing as happiness, love and joy. Does this tie to the philosophy of moderation? Is unbridled expressions of pure happiness really undignified?

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