Every moment of everyday they are there. Some may try to ignore them while others indulge their every whim. Emotions are a continual presence in our lives. They can be fleeting or omnipresent, but they are always there in some way. Anger, love, fear, disgust, and more flow in and out of us. Should they rule over us as they do for so many? Or can we simply use them, as though we would use a hammer to strike a nail?
The other day, as I enjoyed a walk with my child, I spoke about emotions. As with many youth (and adults for that matter), emotions can be a struggle. Our minds are still inexperienced and hormones can exert control at the flick of the switch. Like me, my child is scientifically minded, preferring facts and knowledge. Also like me, my child loves stories, legends, and the implications we can garner from them. It came to me in that moment, as I had been trying to figure out a way to impart the lessons of stoicism, to not be ruled by emotion: Emotions are information, and we can choose how to handle that information.
Each emotion we experience is a response to stimuli. The reaction can be good, such as love, or destructive — as with anger. It’s a signal to us through the systems of our body that give us a set of parameters to then act upon. That act could be as simple as with laughter, or it could be a formed desire to lash out at someone or something.
Even as I continue to age, I explain, I even fall into the trap of believing that my emotions are more important than they are. It’s just information, and with that information, armed with experience (such as past mistakes), I can then respond.
It’s not wrong to have emotions, and it isn’t wrong to always respond to them. Some would say to feel them, then let them go before responding. I would rather take a different approach. Use them. Feel what it is to feel and understand it. Understand the information that the emotion is giving. Question it. Seek out knowledge from it. Don’t let it go, hold it, loosely, not trying to control it, but rather to keep it close enough to understand it. Where did it come from? Why is it there? How is it impacting your thoughts? Then, you can choose to let it go, or you can choose how else to respond.
My child seemed to understand that lesson, as did I. I gained a greater understanding of the lessons I’ve been trying to impart to myself. Emotions will never be something we can rid from our lives. Nor are they something that we can ever truly control. But like pages of an encyclopedia, emotions can provide us the information to help us understand our selves with more depth. We only have to be open enough to listen to them and strong enough to not allow them to sweep us away; even though, we can learn from those events too.