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    Men Without Chests {Post the Second}

    October 13, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Welcome to my second post on the first chapter {or lecture, if you will} of C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, Men Without Chests. Today I just want to think about and attempt to apply a single idea from this portion of the chapter.

    Reasonable Emotions
    The idea that there is even an reasonable or logical side to emotions seems, to our modern ears, like a contradiction in terms, like “altogether separate,” “almost certain,” or “Congressional ethics.”

    Ahem.

    Really, the idea that emotions are purely subjective is unique to the modern and postmodern eras. C.S. Lewis tells us about the world as it once was:

    [There was once a] doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not.

    He later explains:

    No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. but they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.

    Lewis describes a deficiency in himself at one point. He explains that he does not enjoy being around little children. He knows, however, that this is a problem. This is a defect. This is a place where he is lacking.

    I distinctly remember one time when I was trying to teach myself to love something I knew that I ought to love. It wasn’t that I hated this particular part of life, but rather that I was completely apathetic. Left to my own devices, I would never have purposely developed a taste for it.

    At one point, I mentioned this to someone else, and the response was interesting to me. I was encouraged to let it go. “You don’t have to like everything,” I was told.

    Well, yes, I suppose this is true, but I think that I knew deep down that I was less human because I didn’t like this thing. I knew that a full expression of the divine image would involve appreciating all that God made, and yet I found myself with something that I failed to appreciate. I knew the problem was me.

    It is possible that I had already read Lewis at this point, and it was he who pointed it out to me!

    Training the Emotions
    I have two little girls. I am amazed at how emotional little girls can be. Perhaps I bought a bit into the cultural lie that little girls are not born this way, but rather made this way.

    No, really. They come this way.

    Having two boys and two girls has given me something of a case study. My boys are very different. One is more quiet and studious, the other loud and rambunctious {more in line with the stereotypes}. But neither of them freak out the way their sisters do.

    “You hurt my feelings.”

    This is a sentence I hear daily, often multiple times.

    Sometimes, this is a reasonable statement, because someone was doing something for the sole purpose of being mean. Those hurt feelings were a just reaction–she knew someone was trying to hurt her, and she felt it.

    But other times, they are completely unreasonable.

    “You hurt my feelings…

    …because you won’t let me have what I want when I want it.
    …because you accidentally bumped me when you were carrying something and couldn’t see me.
    …because you wouldn’t look at me when I tried to interrupt your talking and steal your attention from one of my siblings.
    …because I woke up grumpy and everything you do and say is wrong until further notice.

    There was a time when I thought emotions were Sacred Ground. I didn’t want to squelch their little personalities. {Plus, I didn’t want to be talked about in therapy when they were in their thirties.}

    But I honestly didn’t know what to do at one point, and the estrogen levels around here were getting a little out of control. I talked with a friend of mine {who has six boys and two girls} about it. I told her about the trouble I was having, and how sometimes I was…afraid of three-year-olds with lots of feelings.

    She patted me on the shoulder. She sympathized. And then she said something I never expected her to say:

    Their husbands will thank you if you teach them to control their emotions.

    Is that possible? I thought.

    She said that it was, and she gave me a few principles.

    I came home armed with a new set of house rules. No longer are you allowed to leave your room after nap until you are…ready to get along with others. Taking things personally when they are not can land you in your room until you are…ready to get along with others.

    In addition, getting offended when your ploy to steal attention from someone you love fail might earn you a lecture on putting others above yourselves.

    Etcetera.

    I feared that spending time squashing completely irrational emotions was going to make me a hard-hearted soul, stomping all over emotions in general.

    Straighten up! How dare you feel!

    But that isn’t what happened, after all.

    Instead, I find myself quiet. I want them to feel the right things, and when they do, I try not to interrupt. In the car, when they are amazed by every. single. thing. we drive by, when I’m getting the headaches from everyone yelling, “WOW!” so often, I have learned to keep my mouth closed.

    For in those moments, they are more human than me.

    I ought to be amazed too, but I grow old, I suppose.

    ______________________________
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    4 Comments

  • Reply Willa October 17, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Good point about learning to put feelings in proper channels, rather than deny them. Sometimes I think about Jesus in this regard — He was very emotional, but His emotions were the appropriate ones, always, and they didn’t lead Him into dangerous territory.

    Interestingly, I’ve read some books about attachment theory in psychology (the importance of attachment to primary caretakers in a child’s emotional and intellectual development) and one of the key aspects of nurturing, according to the books, is teaching “emotional regulation.” That is, a child learns from her closeness to her mother and her mother’s properly balanced responses to regulate her own responses. Some examples — the way we half consciously project reassurance and calm when a child is frightened for no good reason, or the way we try to positively encourage our child either to brace himself up for a challenge, or to avoid acting rashly. In a way you have to build up a child’s “chest” through years, it seems, and this isn’t a rational task so much as an emotional, “heart” one.

    Seems that when the parents get pulled into the emotion and either react with anxiety and wavering, or with anger and harshness, the child doesn’t learn that task of self-regulation. Anyway, I thought it was interesting to hear that from secular, scientific sources.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Silvia! I actually knew a woman who refused to breastfeed because, and I quote: “I am not a cow.” I’ve known many to choose to bottle feed for various reasons, but she was the first who seemed to think that a very human thing was subhuman. It really gives one pause, doesn’t it?

    Cindy, I do think my second daughter would be a little more reserved were it not for her HIGHLY emotional (and here I mean almost completely enslaved to her feelings–she is much better now, but it was a long first few years with her, and God has put many challenges in her path for a reason I think) egging her on! There have been times when I have seen my littler one manufacturing feelings, so to speak, to “keep up” with her older sister.

    We have a lot of feelings around here! 🙂

    It is good for me, though, because I am a little TOO stoic. They give me heart.

  • Reply Cindy October 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I enjoyed reading about a houseful of girls, Brandy. My daughter is very feminine in the way she looks but she is also somewhat stoic. I am not sure why she is not more emotional, but perhaps it has to do with growing up with 8 brothers.

    Silvia, I think your example of breastfeeding is spot on here.

    I read certain books because they are good for me rather than love. I guess blogging about them helps me get through them. If left to myself I would probably only read British murder mysteries 🙂

  • Reply Silvia October 13, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Great post, Brandy.
    What was that ‘thing’ you did not particularly liked and you knew you ‘had to’ like?
    If Lewis can confess his, dislike for children, you can surely share yours…

    Don’t listen to me, I don’t have to know, 🙂 But I’ll share that the idea of breastfeeding was repulsive in my twenties, and I ended up doing if for both my daughters and LOVING it beyond words. While I don’t judge those who did not breastfeed, I do have a problem with those that trash the idea in the name of our ‘right to not like it’, or ‘to choose not to do it’. That won’t be a valid feeling, imo, to not even attempt it.

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