… it’s what you DO with your feelings that’s important.
This is one of my favorite quotes … And I said it! Of course, many others have said it too in some form or another (and certainly long before I ever did) but still, I’m happy I figured this one out enough to articulate it quite some time ago. I also came across the writings of John Powell quite some time ago, though they’ve sat buried on my bookshelves for many years. I remember reading him back in my early 20’s, and found him wonderfully wise even then. Nearly three decades later, I ran across one of his books and pulled it out to read. His piece below illustrates “MY” quote perfectly 😛 I am happy to say his books are still available. Little wonder really, his insights remain timeless.
The Fully Human Person is an Actor, not a Reactor
Sydney Harris, the syndicated columnist, tells the story of accompanying his friend to a newsstand. The friend greeted the newsman very courteously, but in return received gruff and discourteous service. Accepting the newspaper that was shoved rudely in his direction, the friend of Harris politely smiled and wished the newsman a nice weekend. As the two friends walked down the street, the columnist asked:
“Does he always treat you so rudely?”
“Yes, unfortunately he does.”
“And are you always so polite and friendly to him?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Why are you so nice to him when he is so unfriendly to you?”
“Because I don’t want him to decide how I’m going to act.”
The suggestion is that “fully human” people are “their own persons,” that they do not bend to every wind which blows, that they are not at the mercy of all the pettiness, the meanness, the impatience and anger of others. Atmospheres do not transform them as much as they transform their atmospheres.
Most of us, unfortunately, feel like a floating boat the mercy of the winds and waves. We have not ballast when the winds rage and waves churn. We say things like: “He made me so mad.” “You really get to me.” “Her remark embarrassed me terribly.” “This weather really depresses me.” “This job really bores me.” “The very sight of him saddens me.”
Note that all these things are doing something to me and to my emotions. I have nothing to say about my anger, depression, sadness, and so on. And like everyone else we are content to blame others, circumstances, and bad luck. Fully human people, as Shakespeare puts it in Julius Caesar, know that “the fault, dear Brutus, is not with our stars, but with ourselves.” We must learn that we can rise above the dust of daily battle that chokes and blinds so many of us. This is precisely what is asked of us in the process of growth as a person.
There is nothing implied here that suggests repression of emotions or that denies the fullness of life in our senses and emotions. The suggestion is rather of balance and integration of emotions. In fully alive human beings, there can be no such thing as either deadening or unconditionally surrendering to the senses or emotions.
Fully alive people listen to, are attuned to their senses and emotions. However, surrendering to them would imply abdication of intellect and choice. These are the precise powers that make human beings more than brute animals, though a little less than the angels.”
From Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? Insights into Personal Growth by John Powell