Your Mind and How to Use It

Chapter XIII

The Passions

Arising from the most elemental instinctive emotions, we find what may be termed “the passions.” By the term “passion” is meant those strong feelings in which the elemental selfish instincts are manifested in relation to other persons, either in the phase of attraction or repulsion. In this class we find the elementary phases of love, and the feelings of hate, anger, jealousy, revenge, etc. This class of emotions usually manifests violently, as compared with the other emotions. The passions generally arise from self-preservation, race preservation and reproduction, self-interest, self-aggrandizement, etc., and may be regarded as a more complex phase of the elemental instinctive emotions. The elemental instinctive emotions of self-preservation and self-comfort cause the individual to experience and manifest the passional emotions of desire for combat, anger, hate, revenge, etc., while the instinctive emotions leading to reproduction and continuance of the race give rise to the passional emotions of sexual love, jealousy, etc. The desire to attract the other sex increases ambition, vanity, love of display, and other feelings.

It is only when this class of emotions blends with the higher emotions that the passions become purified and refined. But it must not be forgotten that these emotions were very necessary for the welfare of the race in the early stage of its evolution, and that they still play an active part in human life, under the greater or less restraint imposed by civilized society. Nor should it be forgotten that from these emotions have evolved the highest love of one human being for another. From instinctive sexual love and the “racial instinct” have developed the higher affection of man for woman, and woman for man, in all their beautiful manifestations–and the love of the parent for the child, and the love of the child for the parent. The first manifestation of altruism arises in the love of the living creature for its mate, and in the love of the parents for their offspring. In certain forms of life where the association of the sexes is merely for the moment, and is not followed by protection, mutual aid, and companionship, there is found an absence of mutual affection of any kind, the only feeling being an elemental reproductive instinct bringing the male and female together for the moment–an almost purely reflex activity. In the same way, in the cases of certain animals (the rattlesnake, for instance) in which the young are able to protect themselves from birth, there is seen a total absence of parental affection or the return thereof. Human love between the sexes, in its higher and lower degrees, is a natural evolution from passional emotion of a low order, due to the growth of social, ethical, moral, and ├Žsthetic emotion arising from the necessities of the increasing complexity and development of human life.

The simpler forms of passional emotion are almost entirely instinctive in their manifestation. Indeed, in many cases, there appears to be but little more than a high form of reflex nervous action. The following words of William James give us an interesting view of this fact of life: “The cat runs after the mouse, runs or shows fight before the dog, avoids falling from walls and trees, shuns fire and water, not because he has any notion either of life or of death or of self-preservation. He acts in each case separately and simply because he cannot help it; being so framed that when that particular running thing called a mouse appears in his field of vision, he _must_ pursue; that when that particular barking and obstreperous thing called a dog appears there, he _must_ retire if at a distance, and scratch if close by; that he _must_ withdraw his feet from water, and his face from flame, etc. * * * Now, why do the various animals do what seem to us such strange things in the presence of such outlandish stimuli? Why does the hen, for instance, submit herself to the tedium of incubating such a fearfully uninteresting set of objects as a nestful of eggs, unless she have some sort of prophetic inkling of the result? The only answer is _ad hominem_. We can only interpret the instinct of brutes by what we know of instincts in ourselves. Why do men always lie down, when they can, on soft beds rather than on soft floors? Why do they sit around a stove on a cold day? Why, in a room, do they place themselves, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, with their faces toward its middle rather than to the wall? Why does the maiden interest the youth so much that everything about her seems more important and significant than anything else in the world? Nothing more can be said than that these are human ways, and that every creature likes its own ways, and takes to following them as a matter of course. Science may come and consider these ways, and find that most of them are useful. But it is not for the sake of their utility that they are followed, but because at the moment of following them we feel that it is the only appropriate and natural thing to do. Not one man in a million, when taking his dinner, ever thinks of its utility. He eats because the food tastes good, and makes him want more. If you should ask him _why_ he wants to eat more of what tastes like that, instead of revering you as a philosopher he will probably laugh at you for a fool.”

James continues: “It takes, in short, what Berkeley called a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange, so far as to ask the _why_ of any instinctive human act. To the metaphysician alone can such questions arise as: Why do we smile when pleased and not scowl? Why are we unable to talk to a crowd as to a single friend? Why does a particular maiden turn our wits upside down? The common man can only say, ‘_Of course_ we smile, _of course_ our heart palpitates at the sight of the crowd, _of course_ we love the maiden–that beautiful soul clad in that perfect form, so palpably and flagrantly made from all eternity to be loved!’ And so, probably, does each animal feel about the particular things it tends to do in the presence of particular objects. They, too, are _a priori_ syntheses. To the lion it is the lioness which is made to be loved; to the bear, the she bear. To the broody hen the notion would seem monstrous that there should be a creature in the world to whom a nestful of eggs was not the utterly fascinating, precious, and never-to-be-too-much-sat-upon object which it is to her. Thus we may be sure that however mysterious some animals’ instincts may appear to us, our instincts will appear no less mysterious to them. And we may conclude that, to the animal which obeys it, every impulse and every step of that instinct shines with its own sufficient light, and seems at the moment the only externally right and proper thing to do. It may be done for its own sake exclusively.”

One has very little need, as a rule, to develop the passional emotions. Instinct has taken pretty good care that we shall have our share of this class of feelings. But there is a need to train, restrain, govern, and control these emotions, for the conditions which brought about their original being have changed. Our social conventions require that we should subordinate these passional feelings, to some extent at least. Society insists that we must restrict our love impulses to certain limits and to certain quarters, and that we subdue our anger and hate, except toward the enemies of our land, the disturbers of public peace, and the menacers of the social conventions of our time and land. The public welfare requires that we inhibit our fighting impulses, except in cases of self-defense or war. Public policy requires that we keep our ambitions within reasonable limits, which limits change from time to time, of course. In short, society has stepped in and insisted that man, as a social being, must not only acquire a _social conscience_ but must also develop sociable emotions and inhibit his unsociable ones. The evolution of man’s nature has caused him unconsciously to modify his elemental, instinctive, passional emotions, and subordinate them to the dictates of social, ethical, moral, and ├Žsthetic feelings and ideals, and to intellectual considerations. Even the original elemental instincts of the lower animals have been modified by reason of the social requirements of the pack, herd, or drove, until the modified instinct is now the ruling force.

The general principles of emotional control, restraint, and mastery, as given in a preceding chapter, are applicable to the particular class of emotions now under consideration here.

(1) By refraining from the physical expression, one may at least
partially inhibit the emotion.

(2) By refusing to create the habit, one may more easily manifest

(3) By refusing to dwell upon the idea or mental picture of the
exciting object, one may lessen the stimulus.

(4) By cultivating the opposite class of emotions, one may inhibit
any class of feeling.

(5) And, finally, by acquiring a control of the attention, by means
of the will, one has the reins firmly in hand, and may drive or hold
back the steeds of passion as he wills.

The passions are like fiery horses, useful if well under control, but most dangerous if the control is lost. The ego is the driver, the will his hands, attention the reins, habit the bit, and the passions the horses. To drive the chariot of life under social conditions, the ego must have strong hands (will) to tighten or loosen the reins of attention. He must also employ a well designed and shaped bit of habit. Without strong hands, good reins, and well-adjusted bit, the fiery steeds of passion may gain control and, running away, dash the chariot and its driver over the precipice and on to the jagged rocks below.

Leave a Reply