“Smile and the world smiles with you.”
Frown and apparently you’re alone. Or that’s what Canadian (and North American) cultural values might suggest.
Today while responding/ reacting to a poem someone had posted on a group forum on Insight Timer I had an Aha moment. I’ll get onto that, but first- what triggered me?
The poem was sweet and simple- it was posted to inspire the people in the forum of a popular meditation app. All good things. It’s called Promise Yourself by Christian D. Larson. The poem contained a verse urging us to “Wear a cheerful countenance at all times, and give every living creature you meet a smile.” Other lines in the poem are equally instructive, e.g. To forget the mistakes of the past, to look at the sunny side of everything, etc.
So it’s entirely possible to take this poem as the sweet bit of cotton candy that it is. Of course, I’ve chosen to dig a bit after being mildly offended by being instructed, as I hear it, to paste a smile on my mug at all times, regardless of how I feel. After years (see my other blog posts) spent grappling with depression and its aftermath, I’ve come to take advice “to smile” as naive at best, or tyrannical on a difficult day.
While typing out a response to this poem, I had an Aha moment. In the last two years we have seen a groundswell of support for gender non-binary which has opened my eyes to people being not just male/female, but other genders as well. Society has responded, and is still responding, quite visibly and tangibly by providing more gender neutral washrooms, and, in Canada, the introduction of a gender-neutral option on our passports. There’s room to grow here, and a friend asked me why passports even require a gender question at all? Good question.
The point is- we are making progress on recreating gender as non-binary and this area has benefited other areas such as gender equity and cultural equity. Which is awesome. Hell yes to the non-binary.
What triggered me when I read Larson’s poem was this: we do not even accept binary emotions, e.g. Sadness and happiness, anger and peacefulness. One is labelled good, e.g. Happiness or peacefulness, while the other is labelled bad or destructive, e.g. Sadness or anger. We then attempt to deny, hide or efface the “bad” emotion from ourselves rather than express it.
We are currently at an emotional monopoly. The monopoly is dominated by the so-called good emotions. The “bad” emotions are imprisoned in this deluded utopia. But every so often, they erupt like a volcano of violence as another person who is sick of pretending to be happy shoots up a school somewhere in the US.
I wish I were joking.
We have not even achieved binary emotions so we can forget about expressing a broad, non-binary spectrum of emotions which could include conflicting emotions, e.g. Being happy and thankful to be on holiday but dismayed to be having a nasty cold at the same time.
If you doubt me, try expressing an emotional conflict to someone. Watch as they react by trying to emphasize the good or the happy or the fun, e.g. “Don’t tell me you’re not having fun on your holiday because you’re sick? Or “At least you can flop on a lounger by the pool.”
I recognize because I do it too. Perhaps we all do. We are set up to run away from the bad and the difficult.
My question is: when will we recreate emotions as non-binary, neither good nor bad?
Are we a step closer, after the most recent Florida shooting? I’m alarmed that the proposed law changes might see guns put in the hands of some teachers. However waiting periods on gun ownership and banning bump stocks seem positive.
It is my honest hope that we carve space in our life to understand our own emotions. Anger is not bad. It’s information. The same with sadness, fear, disgust, guilt and jealousy.
Here’s a new poem:
You Don’t Need to Smile
Don’t slap on a smile;
That’s a denial!
Instead feel just as you feel.
When you see what’s inside,
It will crack your world open wide.
It takes courage to look within.
And that’s worth more than a grin.