Choosing Emotional Habits

Human life is extraordinarily difficult, for what is good for us is so deeply hidden. With the exception of Homo sapiens, instinct determines what is good for an animal and how to achieve it. A rhinoceros, for example, “knows” by nature what to eat, what to flee from, how to live in a herd, and when to breed. Nature even regulates a rhino’s emotions to suit it needs. An adult male rhino, in mating season, marks out territory with its urine. A male rhino occupies the center of its territory and aggressively chases away any male rhino that challenges it; however, a male rhino must leave its territory for water, and then out of necessity it crosses the territories of other adult males. When a rhino intrudes into another rhino’s territory for water, it becomes submissive. The farther a rhino strays from the center of its territory the more submissive it becomes. Thus, instinct perfectly adjusts anger and fear for the rhino. Similarly, maternal emotions in the female rhino are triggered or inhibited by instincts exactly tailored to the animal’s needs and way of life.

Instinct directs each higher animal to have the right emotion at the right time, to the right degree, and for the right purpose. Fear forces a rabbit to flee from a coyote, not a ground squirrel; anger compels a moose to defend itself from an attacking wolf; desire causes bears to mate in late spring, so their cubs will be born in the winter den.

If only human life were so simple. We must discover our deepest nature — the capacity to be connected to all that is — and the principle of happiness written on our soul — devote your life to something beyond yourself that is free of hate, so your love can be pure. To further complicate life for us, unlike rhinoceri and all the other animals, we humans have two ways of appraising what is good for us — the mind and the emotions — and neither appraisal is determined by nature; even worse, the mind and the emotions often give opposite appraisals of what is good for us. I know I should lose weight, but I like crusty French bread, Camembert cheese, and wine; to further my career I should volunteer to give the next public presentation at work, but the thought of speaking in front of a group terrifies me; I should join a gym or a reading group to make new friends, but lack hope the effort will pay off.

In the course of our lives, each one of us acquires intellectual, emotional, social, and physical habits. While instinct locks an animal into one way of life, a life founded on habit allows the same person to eat with a fork and knife, write a letter, and play the violin. Since nature does not prescribe a fixed way of life for us, we have extraordinary freedom. We can become hunters like the lions, carpenters like the beavers, or musicians like the birds. Every animal activity we raise to a new level. Yet, because of our freedom and undetermined nature, we become confused and acquire faulty intellectual and emotional habits that are frequently at cross-purposes.

Are there any emotional habits that everyone should strive to acquire or attempt to avoid? At first, the answer seems “no,” since the human person is so unfinished by nature, and every culture constructs a different “I.” But one universal, ordering principle for human life does exist: every person has the capacity to be connected to all that is. Thus, any habit that disconnects a person from things or from other people should be avoided. For instance, a person quick to anger will not only anger those around him or her, but will be unable to judge irksome situations accurately. A short-tempered person often gets angry with the wrong people under the wrong circumstances and afterwards may feel regret.

Just as the short-tempered person is avoided by others, so too is the grouch. No one desires to be around a person enveloped in gloom and doom, or to associate with a man or woman who sees only shadows and what is wrong with others. The constant complainer refuses to put up with anything, no matter how trivial, and as a result is quarrelsome.

If a person cannot share, he or she is cut off from others; so, clearly, stinginess and greediness are to be avoided. Stealing and cheating are worse, for the thief and the cheat cannot disclose their activities for all to see, and consequently have cut themselves off from humanity. Similarly, the known liar will not be listened to by others. The liar deprives himself or herself of the full use of language and reason, the two faculties that differentiate human beings from the animals.

Thus, short-temperedness, quarrelsomeness, stinginess, greediness, and deceitfulness cut us off from others. On the other hand, friendliness, a cheerful disposition, generosity, and truthfulness connect us to others.

If truthfulness is extended beyond truth-telling to include the capacity to see things exactly as they are, freed from subjective distortions, then, truthfulness also means to see oneself exactly for what one is, neither more nor less. Such self-awareness is humility. Objective sight reveals that underneath the faults and weaknesses of one’s neighbor lies suffering and a profound unknown. Compassion flows from seeing that one’s neighbor is essentially no different from oneself.

Ignorance, greed, and anger, what Buddha called the three poisons, are the obstacles that stand in the way of each person becoming connected to all that is. If we wish to become who we truly are by nature, we must strive to be truthful, selfless, and compassionate.

If we become who we truly are by nature — if we become like an organism produced by nature with all the appropriate habits to attain our natural end — we become a human-made object with a far greater unity than any culturally-constructed self and more easily see that the ultimate goal of our life transcends nature.

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How Nature Answers “What Am I Doing Here?”

Animals have no relationship to things beyond utility. The bloodhound’s sense of smell is acute enough to detect a person’s unique scent from a five-week-old fingerprint, but the hound uses its expert nose to track animals, never to delight in the fragrance of flowers. A barn owl can distinguish objects in light one hundred times dimmer than the light human beings need to see anything, but the owl uses its keen night vision to sight rodents, never to study the stars. An animal perceives things only under the aspect of what is useful or harmful to itself and hence ignores virtually all of nature.

We know from experience that human sensory perception is not limited to rigid categories of utility. Lorenz claims that even a Tibetan priest schooled in the practice of patience would not be able to remain stationary in front of an aquarium or adjacent to a duck pond long enough to collect the data an ethologist needs. “A wholly irrational delight in the beauty of the object,” he says, keeps the ethologist riveted to nature. Entomologist Edward Wilson studies ants because he finds them fascinating, not because he wants to find better ways to exterminate them. He and his colleague Bert Hölldobler acknowledge that the “primary aim [of naturalists] is to learn as much as possible about all aspects of the species that give them esthetic pleasure.” Wilson adds that his own personal experience has taught him that science begins “by loving a subject. Birds, probability theory, explosives, stars, differential equations, storm fronts, sign language, swallowtail butterflies — the odds are that the obsession will have begun in childhood.” My daughter Brett Ann, when she was seven, picked thistles with purple flowers and displayed them in a vase, because they were beautiful. What is botany but the love of plants? The professional botanist as well as the amateur gardener stakes out a tiny piece of the universe, cares for her prized plants, say American Beauty roses, and in doing so knows the needs and individual characteristics of her plants; in a sense, she becomes one with her roses.

We fall in love with whatever is beautiful and want to know more about it. “The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so,” mathematician and theoretical physicist Henri Poincaré says. “He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing and life would not be worth living.”

Of all the natural creatures, only human beings can get beyond utilitarian needs. A frog cannot see the iridescent, filigreed wing of a fly, nor can the fly see the glistening head and jet black eyes of the frog. A ten-year-old boy seated on the bank of the pond can take in the frog and the fly, can see the puffy white clouds racing across the blue sky, and can feel the warm spring breeze. Without the presence of a human being, the scene does not exist.

Every animal is trapped within the narrow world of utilitarian desire, unaware of even its own beauty. Animals, of course, can experience pleasure in the activities they perform. An otter enjoys swimming, and a foxhound takes great pleasure in the chase. Yet, neither the otter nor the foxhound knows how wonderful it is; only a human being knows that.

What characterizes human life in contrast to animal life is that a human being can get outside himself or herself through wonder and love. If you want to experience the human way of life, go outside at night and look at the stars, or in summer pick up a dandelion and look at it, or gaze into the eyes of the next person you see. Only a person can fall in love with the other; only a person is open to all existence. Who are we? We are lovers. Each person is, as it were, the eyes and ears of nature. Instead of inhabiting “a small, poorly furnished room,” every human person through love can be connected to all that is.

Without human beings, the universe would be a drama played before empty stalls and thus would be pointless. Nature, without human beings, would be like a superb book with no reader to appreciate its subtleties, or like a magnificent symphony played by deaf musicians with no audience to savor its grandeur and pathos. Nature is a pageant that yearns to be known, and no animal’s perception fulfills nature as Homo sapiens’ perception does. Only a person is open to all existence.

In antiquity, sages, not encumbered by modern cultural prejudices, grasped directly the principle mind is primary, that mind and nature formed an indivisible whole.

Cicero: “Man himself, however, came into existence for the purpose of contemplating the world.”

Epictetus: “God introduced man to be a spectator of his works; and not only a spectator of them, but an interpreter.”

Augustine: “Material things help to make the pattern of this visible world so beautiful. It is as though, in compensation for their own incapacity to know, they wanted to become known by us.”

A Zen Master expressed in magnificent poetic imagery how the human being complements the world:

The wild geese do not intend to cast
their reflection;
The water has no mind to receive
their image.

In the Grand Narrative of Science founded on Newtonian physics, the human being, an insignificant creature, an accidental product of chance and necessity, occupies a planet of no distinction, and life, human or otherwise, is pointless. In the new, emerging Grand Narrative, human existence renders the universe meaningful. Remove humankind from nature and you erase the perception of all its wonder, its beauty, and its mystery.

Spiritual Nature Defined

Today, most of us suffer from culturally-induced amnesia and believe that a person’s spiritual nature — if it exists — is confined to church, synagogue, or mosque and has nothing to do with everyday life. To my amazement, the study of animal perception re-discovered the spiritual nature of the human person — the capacity to be connected to all that is. In the Western, the Eastern, and the Native American traditions, the spiritual element of the human being means precisely the capacity to embrace the totality of being. Each culture, of course, expresses the spiritual nature of the human person in its own way.

Greek: “The human soul is, fundamentally, everything that is.”

Hindu: “Thou are that.”

Christian: “Every other being takes only a limited part of being whereas the spiritual soul is capable of grasping the whole of being.”

Jewish: “At opposite poles, both man and God encompass within their being the entire cosmos. What exists seminally in God unfolds and develops in man.”

Islamic: “Who knows his soul knows his Lord.”

Posted in Interior Life

Only Homo Sapiens Can Grasp a Whole

The structure of DNA and the genetic code do not reveal what is unique about the Homo sapiens. To see how human beings differ in kind from other animals we must turn to what we have in common with them besides biology — a perceptual life. The uncovering of animal perceptual life by Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz, and Niko Tinbergen, the founders of ethology, the science of animal behavior, changes the scientific understanding of who we are and our relation to the world in a more radical way than either relativity or quantum physics. The scientific investigations of animal perception by ethologists support one general conclusion: An animal perceives only what is useful or harmful to it.

In a classic study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lettvin, Maturana, McCulloch, and Pitts inserted tiny electrodes into a living frog’s optic nerve so that they could measure the electrical impulses traveling to the frog’s brain. Using this technique, the researchers formed a good picture of what the frog sees. They found that when a small object is brought into the frog’s field of vision and left immobile, the frog’s eye sends electrical impulses to the brain for a few minutes, but then ceases to do so. After a short time, then, the object is no longer there as far as the frog is concerned. The reason for this disappearance is that the frog’s retina is designed to detect small moving objects. If a small object ceases to move in the frog’s field of vision, the retina cancels it out of the frog’s world. The circuitry of the retina, in addition, computes the velocity and trajectory of a small moving object, so that the frog can aim its tongue ahead of where the moving object actually is.

The researchers reported, “The frog does not seem to see or, at any rate, is not concerned with the detail of stationary parts of the world around him. He will starve to death surrounded by food if it is not moving. His choice of food is determined only by size and movement. He will leap to capture any object the size of an insect or worm, providing it moves like one. He can be fooled easily not only by a bit of dangled meat but by any small object.” See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Non-moving flies do not exist for a frog. It will starve to death, although surrounded by food.

As a small boy in rural Michigan, I often caught frogs by dangling in front of them a piece of red cloth tied to a fishing line. My friends and I were amazed that frogs would capture such a “fly.” We, of course, had no idea why frogs were fooled by our obvious ruse. Years later, I learned from the MIT researchers that a frog cannot see a fly as such; it sees only small moving objects.

The MIT researchers also discovered nerve fibers that respond to the net dimming of light. These specialized fibers alert the frog to the danger of a nearby large moving object. In effect, the frog’s eye has only two categories: “my predator” and “my prey.” (The frog’s reproductive life relies solely upon hearing and touch.)

Ethologist Jacob von Uexküll, among the first to document the remarkable specificity of animal perception, discovered that a jackdaw is unable to see a grasshopper that is not moving: “A jackdaw simply does not know the shape of a motionless grasshopper and is so constituted that it can only apprehend the moving form. That would explain why so many insects feign death. If their motionless form simply does not exist in the field of vision of their enemies, then by shamming death they drop out of that world with absolute certainty and cannot be found even though searched for.”

Because animals do not grasp the substance or the what of anything, their innate responses are keyed to a few external stimuli. A deaf turkey hen pecks all her own chicks to death as soon as they are hatched. The poults’ distressed cheeping is the only stimulus that can inhibit the hen’s natural aggression in defense of the nest. The cheeping alone evokes a maternal reaction in the hen. Without the cheeping, the young turkey is judged by instinct to be an enemy and is attacked. A hen with normal hearing will attack a realistic stuffed chick if it emits no sound and is pulled toward the nest by a string. Conversely, she will respond maternally to a stuffed weasel if it has a built-in speaker that produces the cheeping of a turkey poult.

Lorenz reports that on one occasion when returning home from a swim he was suddenly attacked by the normally friendly flock of jackdaws that nested on the roof of his home. The birds screeched their sharp, metallic mobbing call and hailed agonizing pecks on Lorenz’s hand. The black bathing suit that he had just withdrawn from his pocket was sufficient to trigger the jackdaw’s mobbing instinct.

Lorenz explains, “Of all the reactions which, in the jackdaw, concern the recognition of an enemy, only one is innate: any living being that carries a black thing, dangling, or fluttering, becomes the object of a furious onslaught.” He notes that his large, old-fashioned camera never provoked any reaction even though it was black, “but the jackdaws would start their rattling cry as soon as I pulled the black paper strips of the pack film which fluttered to and fro in the breeze. That the birds knew me to be harmless and even a friend, made no difference whatever: as soon as I held in my hand something black and moving, I was branded as an ‘eater of jackdaws.’”

When Lorenz held in his hands a featherless nestling jackdaw, none of the other birds attacked or paid any particular attention. When the nestling’s feathers developed so that the bird became black, Lorenz’s hand was furiously attacked by the parents, if he tried to pick up the young bird. Jackdaws perceive black, they perceive fluttering, but amazingly they cannot perceive bathing suit or film or even jackdaw, as Lorenz’s observations proved. See Figure 2.

Figure 2. A jackdaw’s mobbing instinct responds to “black, fluttering.” The bird will attack a cat carrying a prey or a hand holding bathing trunks. A jackdaw never attacks a cat when it is not carrying “black, fluttering.” (After Uexküll)

Primates, considered the most intelligent of animals, also do not perceive the what of things. Primatologist Wolfgang Kohler reports on the narrow perception of chimpan¬zees: “I tested them with some most primitive stuffed toys, on wooden frames, fastened on to a stand, and padded with straw sewn inside cloth covers, with black buttons for eyes. They were about forty centimeters in height, and could perhaps be taken for caricatures of oxen and asses, though most drolly unnatural. It was totally impossible to get Sultan, who at that time could be led by the hand outside, near these small objects, which had so little real resem¬blance to any kind of animal. He went into paroxysms of terror, or threatened recklessly to bite my fingers, when I tried to draw him towards the toy, as he struggled and strained backwards. One day I entered their room with one of these toys under my arm. Their reaction times can be very short; in a moment a black cluster, consisting of the whole group of chimpanzees, hung suspended from the farthest corner of the wire-roofing, each individual trying to thrust the others aside and bury his head deep in among them.” The apes perceived the shape, size, color, and design of the stuffed toys but could not see what they were — harmless cloth and wood. Psychologist Francine Patterson discovered the same thing while training her female gorilla Koko: “Although Koko has never seen a real alligator, she is petrified of toothy stuffed or rubber facsimiles. I have exploited Koko’s irrational fear of this reptile by placing toy alligators in parts of the trailer I don’t want her to touch.”

To picture the impoverished perceptual life of an animal is extraordinarily difficult. We perceive the what and the why of things, substances and causes, not just black and fluttering, but swimming suit and returning swimmer. Only extreme and rare pathology can cause the perceptual life of a human being to approximate that of an animal. Neurologist Oliver Sacks reports that a patient of his, suffering from a degenerative process of the visual parts of his brain, picked out key features of a scene, “a striking brightness, a color, a shape . . . but in no case did he get the scene-as-a-whole. He had no sense of a landscape.” Uexküll says that an animal’s world is not the world we see at all, but more closely resembles “a small, poorly furnished room.”

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How Emotional Habits Can Be Changed

Neither intellectual insight nor verbal command alone will change an emotional habit. When sad or lonely, we may tell ourselves to cheer up; yet, the gloom remains, or if it does depart, it soon returns. We may realize that we grew up isolated from other persons and are thus distrustful of human relations; yet, we seem unable to break through the barrier that separates us from others. Most of us know that we have the power to choose what we think and how we act, but mistakenly believe we cannot change how we feel. What we fail to grasp is that most habits are formed through repeated action and that consequently a new habit can only be acquired through the performance of a different action.

Consider a piano virtuoso, such as Alicia de Larrocha. In playing a passage from a Mozart cadenza, she does not stop to think which finger will play middle C. Her fingers move out of habit, in the same way that a keyboard operator types the word “the” without thinking. But suppose when Miss Larrocha was a beginning student, she learned to play the passage incorrectly. Then, to replace a bad habit of playing with a good one, she had to struggle to play the passage correctly over and over, until a new habit was acquired.

An undesired emotional habit can be eliminated in two ways, by direct or indirect action. Since an emotion moves a person toward or away from an object, one way to eliminate an emotional habit is for a person to use willpower to perform an action that opposes the tendency of the emotional habit.

For example, when I was ten years old, Ed and Frank Fleck, both in their twenties, lived directly across the street. To my ten-year-old mind, the Fleck brothers knew everything there was to know. They built boats, repaired cars, knew how television sets worked, and even had their own amateur radio station.

The Fleck brothers had a mammoth workshop. I often went down into their damp basement to borrow tools. One day when I flipped the toggle switch to turn off the fluorescent lights, my right hand was suddenly paralyzed, and my knees buckled. I fell to the damp floor, and my heart did weird things. I managed to stand up, but my knees shook. I knew I had narrowly escaped death by electrocution.

Later, Ed, the older brother, took the switch apart, and explained to me how it had failed. He repaired the faulty switch, but I refused to touch it with my bare hand. Several days later when I went to borrow a vacuum tube voltmeter, I used a piece of dry wood to turn the lights on and off, even though I knew I would not receive an electric shock if I touched the switch. My reason told me, “The switch has been repaired and is harmless, now,” and my emotions told me, “If you touch that switch, you’ll hit the floor, again.”

My emotions always prevailed until several months later Ed asked me to turn off the fluorescent lights in the basement. I was momentarily paralyzed, for I was embarrassed to have him see me use a dry stick to throw the switch and also afraid to touch the switch with my hand. Only by a supreme act of the will did I switch off the lights with my hand. After that I never feared to touch the switch.

To use sheer willpower to eliminate a bad emotional habit is generally difficult and unpleasant. A better strategy is to use indirect action. Surprisingly, if a person focuses his or her awareness on the physical component of an emotion, the emotion spontaneously weakens or disappears altogether. Suppose a man has formed the bad habit of becoming angered by the slightest inconveniences, or worse yet, just waits for something to happen so he can become angry. He can change this habit by focusing his awareness on the tightness in his chest every time he gets angry. Over time, his anger will become less intense and less frequent, and eventually his bad emotional habit will be gone. If, on the other hand, the man focuses his awareness on the emotion itself, his anger will intensify and become more deeply entrenched.

Another indirect way to eliminate an undesired emotional habit is through gradual de-sensitization. Many people, for instance, have a fear that is irrational even to them, such as the fear of being away from home, flying, or public speaking. What keeps a fear alive is avoidance of what is feared. Avoidance produces an immediate sense of relief but entrenches the fear. To overcome a fear, a person must face what he or she fears, and this takes real courage, especially if the fear is a long-standing one. Most people find it easier to gradually face their fear, often with the help of a friend.

Over thirty percent of American report that public speaking is their number one fear, ahead of the dark, heights, loneliness, sickness, and even death. For a telephone linesman, an assembly-line worker, or a lumberjack, the fear of public speaking is no more than an occasional nuisance, but for a freshman college student enrolled in a seminar in English literature such a fear can be disastrous. Consider a young woman who fears being called upon by the professor and tries to hide by sitting at the corner of the seminar table. When she sees connections in literature that the other members of the seminar miss, she ardently desires to contribute her insights to the discussion, but cannot. Skipped heart beats, a blushing face, and light-headedness prevent her from speaking. Her inability to speak in the seminar leads to embarrassment, lack of confidence, anger at herself, and increased fear.

To overcome her fear, she could start with an easy task, say, forcing herself in the seminar to ask one simple question, like “I’m sorry. What did you say?” This first step probably would make her slightly anxious but not frighten her so much that she could not do it. Once comfortable with asking simple questions, she could offer her opinion or insight in terms of a question: “Is Aaron’s relationship with his mother important here?” Later, she could have a friend in the seminar ask her to repeat her question, and, in this way, she would begin to engage in public discourse. Through such gradual desensitization, her fear of public speaking will weaken. With courage, she will overcome the inevitable set-backs, and with persistence, she will continue, for years if necessary, to break down a bad emotional habit.

A desired emotional habit can be acquired by using the principle that a person becomes what he or she does. Alicia de Larrocha became an excellent pianist by playing the piano excellently. This may seem circular, but it is not. A person becomes courageous by performing courageous acts, or generous by performing generous acts. Since we become the way we act, a person can become a different kind of person by acting as if he or she were already that kind of person.

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu gives his own life as an example. He confesses that he was “brought up as a stiff, stuffed-shirt Englishman who considered that any exhibition of emotion was low class. To be very cutting in one’s wit no matter how unpleasant it was, how denigrating it was to another person, was correct behavior.” Montagu says he changed from a nasty, hostile, aggressive creature simply by acting as if he were a loving human being. He recommends, “If you’re not yet a loving human being, what you have to do in order to change is begin to act ‘as if’ you were by demonstrative acts, by communicating to others, by throwing your arms around them, by taking them by the hand, by putting an arm around their shoulders. It’s enormously important to remember that ‘as if.’ You behave ‘as if’ you were a loving human being. If you go on behaving ‘as if’ you were a loving human being, one day you’ll wake up and find you’ve become what you’ve been doing.”

To understand what emotional habits we should choose requires a two-part detour to discuss the spiritual nature of Homo sapiens.

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Friendship

No one would choose to live without friends; even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the two richest men in the world, would be lonely and pathetic without friends, although obviously they can buy anything they want, except true friends. We do not feel affection for everything, but only for what is lovable. We love what is good, pleasurable, or useful about another person; thus there are three kinds of friendship.

When the motive of friendship is usefulness, we do not feel affection for one another as such but for some material good that accrues to us. These friendships are not always morally reprehensible. Many friendships of utility, for instance, are founded on the exchange of favors. These relations are common among neighbors and acquaintances and include such everyday associations as carpools and food co-ops. In the workplace, where utility generally reigns, many people, because of ambition, wish to receive affection from superiors and use flattery, pretending to be a friend in an inferior position. In the vernacular, ass-kissing is a common way to advance a career because most men and women love flattery, for they wish to be loved rather than to love.

Friendship based on usefulness is subject to complaints and rapid dissolution. The sharing of money, power, and honor invariably leads to disputes. The desire for more is insatiable and the feeling of being treated unfairly is seldom absent. Aristotle, in his realistic manner, observed over 2,300 years ago, “Most people wish to be recipients of good deeds, but avoid performing them, because they are unprofitable.” Some things in human life never change.

Friendships based on pleasure are not that different from friendships of utility. We love witty people not for what they are but for the pleasure they give us. Children call one another friends because of the pleasure they have when playing together; yet, such childhood friendships advance human growth and development.

My four-year-old grandson, Yasu, tells me he has “lots of friends.” He plays more intensely and more imaginatively when one or two of his friends are present. Recently, one of his friends imitated Yasu jumping from a stool to the floor. Soon the two friends developed a game, in which the two boys took turns standing on one leg on the stool, shouting something about pirates, and then jumping to the floor. In their play, Yasu and his friend were developing social skills, physical dexterity, and imagination.

The friendships of adolescence are based on pleasure, too. The lives of young adults are guided by emotion, for the most part, as I or any older adult can testify to personally, since almost no one escapes the madness of being crazy in love. When a young couple falls in love, they are primarily in love with the pleasurable emotion produced by the other person. Lovers wish to be together all day and to live together forever. When apart, life is flat, and each lover dreams of the other. Such a love dissolves easily, often painfully, because ultimately, when push comes to shove, it becomes clear that each lover is pursuing his or her own ends and wishes to receive more than to give.

The third kind of friendship, the one based on the good, is readily seen in the love of a mother for her child or of a teacher for his student. The mother acts for the good of child as does the teacher for student. To care and provide for another draws a person out of his narrow sphere of self-interest; his ego is seen of little importance and is set aside in favor of the other. In the truest, most long-lasting friendships, a friend acts for the good of his friend for the friend’s sake, as if his friend were another self. Aristotle defines genuine love as “to wish another everything we think good, and moreover for the other’s sake, not for our own.”

In a friendship based on the good, a common life is shared. Whatever makes life desirable is pursued together. Some friends engage in sports together, others perform music, yet others pursue social justice. What friends love most in life is what binds them together; their mutual love enhances their love of the third thing that binds them together. Such friends feel the pleasure and pain from the same things, judge the same way, and understand the same things — in a sense, they are one soul, and such unity of souls, in itself, is pleasurable. Through love, we wish to be joined to another, to live together, to speak together, to enjoy each other, to be useful to each other, and to be united together in all things.

With regard to the love of another person, lovers strive to gain an intimate knowledge of everything that pertains to the beloved, so as to penetrate the other’s soul. Lovers seek to possess each other perfectly, by entering into the heart of the other. Having the same desires, lovers grieve and rejoice over the same things. At times, lovers wish to be united into one, a union that would destroy one or both.

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We Are Meant To Love and Be Loved

Without love, we would have no emotional life, and without emotions, we could not carry out the actions necessary for life. Fear spurs us to escape danger; anger gives us the strength to defend ourselves; and desire urges us to mate. Indeed, love is the cause of all our actions, not just those that are physical. Pablo Picasso, for instance, said of art, “I love it as the whole end of my life. Everything I do in connection with art gives me a tremendous joy.” Nadia Boulanger, probably the twentieth-century’s greatest teacher of music, declared, “I consume music in an absolutely crazy way. It’s like a disease. When I am dead tired, having given eight or nine hours of lessons in succession, the first thing I do — and it irritates everyone in the house — is to turn on the radio! And, I listen. I am insatiable. I love to hear. When I was younger, and my sight allowed it, it was just the same, I sight-read all the time.”

Love and joy are also very much a part of science. Einstein, in a speech praising Max Planck for his unalloyed dedication to truth, said, “The state of mind that enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshipper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.” Philosopher Bertrand Russell described his first encounter with serious mathematics: “At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined that there was anything so delicious in the world.” Thus, beyond our material needs, love joins us to truth, goodness, and beauty.

Without intense love a person cannot pursue a craft, a science, an art, or wisdom. An old Zen story illustrates what intense love means. Tozan goes to the house of Ummon, a master swordsman and begs the Master to teach him the art of the sword. Master Ummon says he is too busy, but Tozan refuses to leave and sleeps at the Master’s door. To avoid tripping over Tozan, the Master gives Tozan menial chores. After several months, Tozan tells the Master that he is tired of grooming the grounds and that he is ready to learn the sword. The Master grabs Tozan by the neck, drags him to a corner of the garden, and plunges his head in a barrel filled with rainwater. When the Master pulls Tozan’s head out of the water, Tozan’s entire body gasps for air.

Tozan takes two gulps of air, and Ummon asks him, “When your head was under water, what were you thinking of?”

“Master, the only thing I could think of was air.”

“When you can only think of the sword, you will be ready to learn.”

But to love we must be loved first. Psychologist René Spitz showed through the study of hospitalized children that a child’s very first bond with another person is the basis for the later development of human love and friendship. A child under two years of age if deprived of a single person’s continuous care for three months or more develops emotional trauma that may result in death, even though the child is provided with perfectly adequate food, shelter, hygiene, and medication by a succession of compassionate nurses. In such circumstances, no one is exclusively responsible for loving the child, so she cannot form an attachment to another person. Spitz recounts the suffering of one baby girl deprived of her mother: “She lay immobile in her crib; when approached she did not lift her shoulders, barely her head, to look at the observer with an expression of profound suffering sometimes seen in sick animals. As soon as the observer started to speak to her or to touch her, she began to weep. This was unlike the usual crying of babies, which is accompanied by a certain amount of unpleasure vocalization, and sometimes screaming. Instead she wept soundlessly, tears running down her face. Speaking to her in soft comforting tones only resulted in more intense weeping, intermingled with moans and sobs, shaking her whole body. This reaction deepened in the ensuing two months. It was more and more difficult to make contact with the child. Seven weeks later, it took us almost an hour to establish contact with her. During this period she lost weight and developed a serious eating disturbance; she had difficulty in taking food and in keeping it down.”

If separation continues the child shows rapid decline in mental and motor development, eventually being unable to sit, stand, walk, or talk despite the best of institutional care. In the extreme case, when love is totally absent, or nearly so, the child simply dies, or if it survives, its emotional life is permanently damaged.

Spitz also discovered that when a child experiences other persons as a source of both intense pain and comfort, all the child’s emotions are blurred, and its capacity for friendship is severely diminished. A child severely deficient in love is not interested in his or her toys and is prone to violence in later life. An empty, uninterested facial expression is a characteristic of a child lacking love. Many a child’s life has been saved from ruin by the sustained, unconditional love of a grandmother, an aunt, or a nanny. If a mother or continuous caregiver showers the baby with gratuitous love, the infant feels, “I am wonderful, just because I am.” The child learns to love itself the way the mother or caregiver loves him or her. The young child then extends this self-love to a love of the world. The child feels, “It’s good to be alive; it’s good to be surrounded by such good things.”

A child nurtured and protected by love can as an adult suffer the most outrageous misfortunes and still believe she and the world are fundamentally good. If success is measured by human relations and friendship, not wealth and career achievement, then the kind of love a child receives is a better predictor of her course in life than environment, IQ tests, or genes.

Thus, we arrive at the fundamental principle of human life: A person is meant to love and be loved. Who can say deep down in his or her heart, “I do not want to love nor do I want to be loved.”?

We love and are loved as parents, children, spouses, and friends. Such relations, as everyone knows, are fraught with difficulties, misunderstanding, and pain. Here we focus on friendship to illustrate the complexity of love.

To be continued.

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Love: The Primary Emotion

How are the various emotions distinguished from each other? At first glance we might think the seemingly infinite variety of emotions makes them impossible to classify. The object of an emotion, however, can be related to us in only a limited number of ways. (See Table). The object may be either good or bad for us, either present or absent, and either easy or difficult to attain (or avoid). The emotions that occur under these simple conditions may be called the basic emotions. When we intuitively appraise that an object is good for us, love is evoked; the motion toward obtaining the object is called desire; and when we rest in the good attained we experience joy. To take a simple example: if a person likes pastrami and happens to pick up the scent of it coming from a delicatessen across the street at a time when he is hungry, he will probably desire it, go to the delicatessen and order some, and then feel joy when he bites into the well-prepared sandwich. He, of course, may because of a business appointment exercise his will and act contrary to his emotional impulse to obtain the pastrami sandwich.


Table. The eleven basic emotions. We love the good, desire it when present, and rest in joy when it is attained. When the good is absent and difficult, we either hope or despair. We hate the bad, try to avert it, and if anger does not repel it, we acquiesce in sorrow. When the bad is in the future and difficult to avoid, we experience either courage or fear. Love is primary, because the good attracts us as such, while the bad threatens to destroy some good we love. For instance, we hate disease because we love health and not vice versa.

The three contrary emotions — hate, aversion, and sorrow — are evoked in a similar way by something bad. For example, if a woman finds a coworker to be boastful, vulgar, and obnoxious, she will try to avoid him. If she is forced for some reason to eat lunch with him, she will feel sorrow.

When a person desires a future good that can be attained only with great difficulty, two opposite emotions are possible: hope and despair. An aspiring novelist whose first work is rejected by several publishers in a row will waver between hope and despair, depending on whether she considers getting her work published to be possible or not. In hope the object is considered so desirable that a person pursues it despite the difficulties and obstacles. In despair a person abandons the pursuit of a good, because he or she considers it impossible or no longer worth the effort.

In a similar way, two opposite emotions, fear and courage, deal with a future evil difficult to avoid. Imagine a man accused of incompetence by a coworker and forced to face his accuser before the boss. He will most likely experience fear before the confrontation takes place, but he may possess a confidence in the justice of his case that will engender courage in facing the future threat.

One final emotion, anger, deals with a difficult evil already present. Anger differs from sorrow, because it struggles to repel a suffered evil, while sorrow acquiesces in the suffering. One day a man becomes so angered by annoying calls from telemarketers that he yells into the telephone, “Take my name off your blankety-blank calling list,” and slams the receiver down. Anger alone has no contrary emotion, since its opposite would have to regard a good already present as difficult to obtain.

These divisions, then, yield eleven basic emotions: love, desire, joy, hate, aversion, sorrow, hope, despair, fear, courage, and anger. All other emotions can be considered either as species of these basic emotions or as compounded from them in some way. For example, there are many species of sorrow: Pity is sorrow for the misery of another; envy is sorrow at another’s prosperity; loneliness is the sorrow caused by the lack of companionship. Jealousy is a compound emotion, aroused by various and often opposite aspects of the same person, including love and hatred of the loved one, anger at the loved one or the third party, and a fear of loss.

The eleven basic emotions are ordered to each other in a simple way. Love is primary, for without love none of the other emotions exist. Unless we love something we do not desire it or enjoy its possession; unless we hate something we do not flee from it or feel sorrow at its presence. But hate cannot be the primary emotion: The good attracts us as such, while the bad repels us, because it threatens to destroy some good we love. We hate disease because we love health and not vice versa. As we have seen, the other basic emotions — hope, despair, fear, courage and anger — all result from either love or hate. Thus, love is primary, and all other emotions are secondary.

To be continued.

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