That Delicate Balance


The legendary philosopher Aristotle divided emotions between morally good and bad states. He extolled emotions, such as self-belief, elation and cordiality as ‘good’ and fear, envy and hatred as ‘bad.’ Ironically, the wisest of Greeks did not include eudaimonia, a distinctive form of happiness, which is synonymous with the modern concept of mind-body, or subjective, wellness. The reason, perhaps, being Aristotle visualised that happiness, achieved through a life of virtue and meditation, along with good ‘control’ over one’s tongue, not to speak of a calm disposition, exemplified a state of bliss, or nirvana in Eastern thought.

You may certainly think of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ effects, in consonance with present-day analyses, or goodness against anger, or fear — more so, because of the implied underpinning that depressing emotions affect happiness and also wellness. While it is agreed that such emotions may not always relate to our bio-psycho-physiological states, they may certainly have a basis in one’s thinking, or thought patterns, in a given, or not given situation. You’d, of course, connect them to one’s soul passions, or profound feelings of natural response, triggered by either a liking for someone you may be close to, or dislike for someone who you don’t ‘relate’ to.

From a psychological context, ‘bad’ emotions can be restrained, if not controlled, through reason, or rationale — this could correlate to repression, or ridding oneself of despondency and emotional illness. You get the idea? Yes. Because, you can now contextualise the two sides of the same coin — love and desire for good emotions and hate and antagonism for bad emotions. The inference is simple. It is only when you are able to replace hate and despondency with hope and courage, would you be able to overcome despair, fear and anger, while cultivating the aptitude to managing negative emotional states.

Charles Darwin, according to a paper, Understanding Emotions: Origins and Roles of the Amygdala, published by Goran Šimić, et al, in Biomolecules [June 2021], was probably the first to study the evolution of emotional reactions and facial expressions systematically and to recognising the importance of emotions for the adaptation of the organism to various stimuli and environmental situations.” Šimić, et al, also add, “After a detailed description of individual facial expressions as well as the motor apparatus involved in the expression of each individual emotion in his book, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, published in 1872, Darwin concluded that emotions in humans, just as in animals, have a common evolutionary history. By presenting the findings that certain emotional facial expressions have universal meaning for people in different parts of the world, Darwin anticipated research of facial expressions that would not begin until more than a century later. From an evolutionary perspective, emotions allow for the co-ordination of a whole range of different processes with the goal of resolving immediate and urgent issues.”

In a contemporary context, as Šimić, et al, articulate, emotion categories are as real as any other concept that entails responsiveness, or awareness, to exist. From the point-of-view of the theory of constructed emotion, emotions, such as fear, anger, or sadness, are socially and experientially constructed categories and, therefore, vary with culture and time. In the neuroscientific jargon, construct, as Šimić, et al, emphasise, refers to a group of distributed activity patterns of specific neuronal populations. An individual emotion is created in the same way as all the other perceptions, through information flow within neural circuits. Šimić, et al, also affirm, “[Subsequently], the brain neither specialises in processing emotions nor are emotions innate. Instead, it is the innate ability of the brain to create assumptions, or predictions, to construct an emotional episode, depending on a given situation, as is so for many other general processes related to a particular domain [e.g., memory, perception, or attention]. In other words, the relationship between the brain and emotions should be observed through a prism of the understanding that a given brain structure, or area, can have multiple functions, depending on the currently active functional network and co-activation patterns in all active areas at a given time.”

What we have today, in an increasingly conflicting world, is extreme angst, hate, violence, greed, authority and ambition, not to speak of countless ‘scams’ — these negative states are formidable to curb, and they all rattle the idea of righteousness. This is one reason why we need to return to the wisdom of ancient philosophy, which always celebrated the principle of harmonious living within the community, or society. Put simply, it means that we should preserve our societal virtues by redirecting our physical and emotional energies against unsettling emotions that have become the ‘ghosts’ of everyday life — not just newspaper headlines.

Many contemporary thinkers discuss emotions as a ‘smorgasbord’ of involuntary muscular ‘synapses,’ or signs of innumerable emotional states — either way they embrace expressions, such as happiness and love, grief, anxiety and despair, among other emotions. Add to it conscious feelings, viz., emotionally-charged active thoughts, not just objective physical patterns, and you will connect pronto to emotions that follow the sensitivity of mind-body changes.

All of this brings us to ‘organic’ feelings that emanate in our senses; also, biology. These feelings relate to ‘formal’ emotions, such as despair and disgust, as against surprise, or ‘bolt from the blue’ and affability. In like manner, we are endowed with ‘qualitative’ feelings — humility and pride — although the difference between them is equivalent to the diverse perspective of ‘judging’ someone who catches the train to go to office, while another boards a chartered flight to canter through yet another round of endless meetings — on the other side of the globe.

This brings us to the fundamental premise of this piece — one that hankers on propelling positive over negative emotions, while bringing about a sense of balance in life and every other activity.

— First published in The Himalayan Times, Nepal