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Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions by Richard Lazarus and Bernice N. Lazarus

 

"Every human being, even if he is an idiot, is a millionaire in emotions." --Isaac Bashevis Singer

 

Passion and Reason does not contain many shocks, but it does contain nifty insights. Richard and Bernice Lazarus describe emotions and individual cases.

 

Individuals with poor mental health suffer problems with both emotions and reasoning. Emotion and reason are seriously intertwined--mutually dependent. Emotion and reasoning do not exist on some spectrum with reason on one end and emotion at the other.

 

It is, perhaps, nearly impossible to be a moral being of purely emotionless language or purely affective states. The better the emotions, the better the reasoning that results. The better the reasoning, the better the emotions.

 

Emotions arise from a complex mixture of heredity, environment, and "personal meaning"--beliefs, identity, and purposefulness.

 

Emotions are sometimes nudges and reminders. Or sometimes blaring sirens occurring in response to events. Emotions are not the final word for determining better or worse. Each of the 15 emotions covered in Passion and Reason--love, hope, pride, guilt, shame, envy, relief, anger, sadness, anxiety, jealously, gratitude, compassion, happiness, and aesthetic experience--is potentially a helpful warning, false alarm, harmful warning, or personal motivator. Or simply an experience good or bad for its own sake.

 

Emotions tell us about ourselves. Examining our anger or lack of anger in a situation helps us determine whether we perceive slights where none exist or perceive disproportionately to the slight that exists. Whether overestimating or underestimating the slight, anger can reveal our values. Lack of anger when a friend gets assaulted by another, suggests a phony friendship or poor moral values. Or both.

 

Examining jealousy may reveal that we really will lose someone, maybe that our fear of loss is unwarranted, or that we fear losing another because our behavior stinks. Emotions can be mixed. Bad behavior and losing another to someone else may cause guilt mixed with jealousy.

 

We must not cultivate pale, shallow, or stultifying emotions out of a fear that strong emotions automatically lead to destruction. Nor must we think that emotions are almost all that matters. Few humans, as someone once said, like it when their emotions do not get top billing on the marquee of the universe. We often recoil from facts that fail to meet our perceptions.

 

A major part of our characters arises from how we think and act despite ambivalences.

 

Our emotions should match our performance. We should teach ourselves to feel good for doing good things. We should not feel good for doing trivial or destructive activities. Worth a look.

 

321p (H) 1996

Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated June 29, 2009

 

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