The Importance of being Negative
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
“Emotions” such a scary word! Scarier are the so called negative emotions. Unhappiness and anger the cause of the doom and gloom in the world as they say.
All spiritual books and leaders have warned us about the ill effects of these emotions. Have they? I am by no stretch of imagination a spiritual or a religious expert. But I often believed that we have looked at these teachings at face value. Are we talking about controlling the feeling of emotion or the expression of it?
Emotions are psychological equivalents of basic physical needs. We are born with them. The baby in the womb too experiences emotions like it experiences hunger. Children are assumed to have lesser control over the expression of their basic physical needs. Haven’t we all opened our lunch boxes in the middle of class or snuck in snacks without the omnipresent mom knowing. As adults we learn to control our basic physical needs. Not the feeling of it but the expression of it. We don’t “not” feel hungry, we just learn to better control the instinct to satiate.
Emotions too are the same. As kids we expressed emotions freely. Clapping to express happiness and howling to express displeasure. As adults we are expected to better control the expression but are we expected to deny them all together?
Every day, I hear the statement “I just want to be happy” or “I want to get rid of my negativity”. It often makes me wonder where we would be without our negativity. Aren’t anger and sadness a part of us? Are they not necessary? If they are not necessary then why did we not get rid of them as we evolved? We got rid of the tail didn’t we? In fact as humans or beings higher up in the evolutionary cycle we have much more complex negative emotions. So logically they might have their uses.
Let’s start with anger. The portrayal of evil in our society. Often denoted by the colour red. But then red also denotes passion. So is passion controlled expression of anger? Let’s imagine a world without anger. Let’s imagine a young M.K Gandhi not angered by being pushed of a train in South Africa. Let’s imagine Bhagat Singh not angered by the plight of his fellow beings. Let’s imagine Raja Ram Mohan Roy not angered by the plight of widows in our country. Yes what they felt was anger, similar to what you and I feel when someone overtakes us on the road. The only difference was that they handled anger better and channeled it productively. Our society will not change without anger. It is a catalyst for change of a set pattern of behaviour.
Now let’s look at fear and/or anxiety. A brave man is often described as one without fear. No, a brave man is a man who accepts his fears and works towards removing the threat. If the brave soldier did not fear the enemy entering his Motherland would he so willingly sacrifice his life? Wouldn’t lack of fear lead to complacency? Fear is a great motivator. We just have to learn how to fear the right things. Fear brings out the adrenaline which helps us push our boundaries. Or have you forgotten staying up all night because of the fear of failing the next day? Lack of fear I feel is more dangerous. Just look at those kids with bikes the next time you are on the road and tell me you don’t wish they had a healthy dose of fear?
And now the much unwanted “unhappiness”. The pursuit of human life seems to be happiness. Have you asked yourself what makes you happy? The romantic in me wants to give the example of finally meeting the love of your life. Makes you happy? Ecstatic? Beyond all that? Ask yourself why? Because you were unhappy in their absence. If you were to be happy without them how would you feel happy when you meet them? If a batsmen was happy whenever he scored a duck where would our cricket obsessed nation find happiness? If you were happy with your current life position would you fight so hard to get a promotion?
Sadness, anger, fear and range of other emotions are a necessary part of our lives. All religions have the concept of God and Satan, of good and evil. Wouldn’t Bollywood be boring without the villains? And where would the soap operas be without the Vamps however badly dressed they may be. Their whole purpose is to make us appreciate the good, to motivate us to do better and to caution us against threat.
Why then have they become so unwanted? Because we tend to look at life in terms of black and white. If I am not happy then I must be sad. Sometimes it’s ok to be sad, to be angry or to be fearful. A constant state of happiness is as unhealthy as a constant state of sadness.
These negative emotions become a problem when we believe that we can’t overcome them. We spend most of our energy fighting the feeling of the emotion that there is no energy left to fight the expression. Let’s take a step back and accept them and focus on using them. See what a world of difference it makes. Rather than focusing on “I should not get angry” focus on “what can I do about the situation that makes me angry”. A crying baby in the middle of the night will make any mother angry. If you are going to belittle yourself about being “a terrible mother for even experiencing this emotion against my own flesh and blood” the baby is going to cry louder. Let’s accept that you are a normal human being with basic need for undisturbed sleep and an interruption will make you angry. So what do I do about it? Focus on the baby of course! The sooner it stops crying the sooner you go back to sleep. But at least you will wake up guilt free next day!
So next time you are negative… know you are just being human…