Negative emotions govern the world; while virtue operates as an heroic resistance movement.
And negative emotions are extremely infectious.
On social media, one negative person can make a million others negative.
At home, one negative person can make a home a hell.
And the negative state is a prison most of us are in, to one degree or other, passively or actively.
We complain or we justify ourselves or we judge people or we resent people or we attempt to control circumstances or we’re avoidant or we’re self-pitying or anxious or we play the victim or we’re furious or we can’t see beyond ourselves or we’re disengaged or refuse to take responsibility…all negative emotions.
The negative state is not a prison with bolts and bars but confines us nonetheless, making us less than full human.
And we’re drawn into this netherworld discreetly. Negative emotions seem far cleverer than non-negative emotions; we feel bolstered by them.
They somehow give us identity: ‘That’s the way I am’.
They seem more fertile, more interesting, more ingenious, more realistic and more justified than non-negative emotions; and this is because they lie – and lie so persuasively.
Our negativity is always fully justified in our eyes; as is the harm it causes, both to ourselves and others: ‘That’s life, I’m afraid!’
And in its thrall, we find it impossible to laugh at ourselves. (Though we may pay lip service to the idea, for public consumption.)
It is as though some invisible yet binding force is getting mixed up in everything we do – like a cord we should have cut through with a sharp knife.
We have to be adroit in not becoming negative; very adroit. At the heart of this bid for freedom is the refusal to identify with our own particular cause or plans.
Negativity calcifies around the grandiose/entirely reasonable ideas of the ego, always demanding we identify with ourselves and our cause; whatever our cause is.
But the free stay playful in the adventure, most of which is pretence anyway. The free don’t identify. When they feel offence rising, they let go of themselves and therefore the offence.
They don’t want prison life.
There’s a fascinating example of this in the gospels, when a woman proves the non-negative hero. It is, perhaps, the only example of Jesus being bettered by someone in debate.
A Syrophoenician woman encounters Jesus who calls her ‘a dog’.
How adroit she is, in the face of such abuse. She’s asking him to heal her daughter – but she isn’t a Jew, she’s a Gentile, which is a problem, because, as Jesus reminds her, Gentiles are dogs.
‘Let us first feed the children,’ says Jesus the Jew. ‘It isn’t right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
‘Sir,’ she replies, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the childrens’ left-overs!’
In the face of insult, she chooses a path of non-negativity.
She doesn’t identify with herself or her race; she doesn’t demonise Jesus, she stays out of the prison of negative thoughts. She lets the insult pass her by, while remembering her daughter’s needs.
Jesus is impressed; perhaps he laughs at himself. And ‘because of her answer’, we’re told, he relents.
Maybe negative emotions need not always govern our world.
Other states are available.