Emotions: weakness or strength?

Would you give 10 bucks to an old lady who says she lost her wallet and needs some money to go home?

A week ago my attention was intensely drawn to the face of a short-hair neighbourhood girl with pleasant facial expressions appearing on the TV news. She was doing some talking on the screen. For some unexplainable reasons, I just couldn’t take my eyes off her face. Despite the fact that she was incredibly realistic in every single movement – her hair, skin and facial expressions were real enough – yet there was somehow some uncomfortable emptiness in the pupils of her eyes. Not long after I started observing I confirmed that she is actually the latest invention from Japan which blurred the line between man and machine – a human-like robot. Instantaneously, I felt sad for this neighbourhood girl for she possesses every virtue of a human being except that she can’t feel or sense like a real human being does. If only the scientist can upload the human brain into her.

Seeing this triggered me to ponder upon the following questions. Imagine what your life would be like if you could not experience emotions. What if you felt no joy at seeing dozens of twinkling stars smiling at you, you felt no heartache witnessing your pet lying still on the ground, you felt no emotion singing together with thousands fellow fans of your beloved artist in a packed stadium, no pride in receiving a long deserved degree, no fear standing at the cliff? What would your life be then? Could human life indeed exist if we feel no emotions? Perhaps life would seem human without emotions if you believed that emotions were undesirable reflections of our vulnerability.

Having emotions or passion, as sometimes it’s called, were always perceived as antithetical to reason. In fact, emotions were seen as disrupting reason entirely. Many say that if we could control our animalistic emotions, we would reach higher levels of being and thinking that is human. Is this really so? Reason was seen as a human virtue, emotions were thus basically undesirable, at least to men and scholars. This is because sometimes, in addition to being relegated to animals, emotions were also relegated to the (commonly believed, somewhat lower existence of) women and children.

People in some cultures view the display of emotion, particularly in public places, as undesirable or casting doubt on the psychological health of a person. However, if we take a look at some places like France for instance, public expression of emotion is so common so as not to draw any attention at all. Some might dispense with emotions if you believe that emotions simply serve no function or purpose at all but would only disturb our peace of mind. I personally see that emotions play a fundamental role in human life without which, human life is not complete. Only life with laughter and tears is worth called a real human life with no regrets. There is nothing to be ashamed of for Superman, who saves the world everyday, to feel tired once in a while, pause for a moment to look down at the world and have a little craving for more time belonging to himself.


Give me a while | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mendhak/


Emotions play an important role in our daily lives. They allow us to make social connections and to hold a social group together. Let us take a look at a hypothetical situation where a blind boy is standing on the street trying to ask for donations from the passers-by. Compare the following 2 signboards placed in front of the blind boy asking for donations:-

Signboard 1  – “I am blind. Please donate.”

Signboard 2 -  “Today is a beautiful day…but I can’t see it.”

Admittedly, whether you like it or not, passers-by will respond emotionally to the second signboard better compared to the first one. Choice of words in order to ignite the emotional button of the passers-by here is important so as to enable the passers-by to feel the inability to see of the little boy and take out a penny.

Out of all emotions, empathy, being some sort of emotional response to recognise and feel within yourself the state, plight, pain, suffering of the person you are with and resulting in your emotional state moving in a similar direction with the person you are empathising with, underlies virtually everything that makes a society work. Humans need the capacity for empathy for without it, the ability to love is lost. Failure to empathize is a key part of all most social problems. Sadly, with today’s technology advancement, empathy in our society seems to be slowly endangered.

Today, there are slight changes in the way one connects to another. We check Blackberry emails and facebook notifications every second, we constantly update our friends, loved ones and even total strangers about the minutiae of our lives, and with this, we seem to have endless connections with each other and up-to-date minute information about another. Yet, behind all these communication and connectedness, something is missing. The ugly truth perhaps is that we are in fact caring, observing and feeling less about the people around us. We might be constantly aware of our friends’ whereabouts, but all that connectedness doesn’t seem to be translating into genuine concern for the world and the wellbeing of one another. Perhaps it is also fair to say that most of us don’t spend our days wondering if we’re empathetic.


It's okay dear | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lesterofpuppets/

Empathy is such a basic ingredient of the human experience that even babies exhibit it, crying when other children cry or reacting to the facial expressions of adults and parents. However, recently, the shocking death of a little toddler, YueYue in China, who was ran over by 2 vehicles and lay bleeding on the street resulted in outrage among society. A video recording captured 18 passers-by walking or driving by but none of them paused to help out. Not long after that, another similar incident occured in the eastern province of Shandong when a 5-year-old boy playing on a sidewalk was struck by a wooden beam that had fallen from a construction site.  His mother begged motorists and bystanders to help bring him to a hospital, but all refused — including a low-level municipal police, who drove by and ignored her, according to local media. An ambulance eventually arrived, but the boy, named LongLong, died on his way to the hospital.

In the wild race to pursue wealth, the country is now struggling with its unspoken illness of the collapse of morals and conscience. In defending their reluctance to help out, the reason most often given is that recently in China, bystanders who did intervene to help others have found themselves accused of wrongdoing. People keep bringing up the 2006 incident in China where a good Samaritan was sued and paid a lot of money for medical fees just for helping an old woman involved in an accident. In refusing to help out, reason here seems to prevail over emotions. In some provinces of China, the laws are now being revised to indemnify good Samaritans against being sued should their efforts fail. It is sad to say that laws are only really needed when the conscience has failed. Law is not and should not be the correct way to instil kindness. We might even say that the more laws a society needs, the less emotionally intelligent the society is.

Even though it may be possible to sometimes feel too much empathy, many people, including Barack Obama, believe that empathy is something we could use more in society. In fact, it is likely that our human ability to empathise is one of the main ways our emotions contribute to the survival of the species. I am always in disagreement with my sister over a hypothetical situation where we are approached by an old lady at the LRT station asking from passers-by for 10 bucks as transport fare as she has lost her wallet. Reason will dictate us to walk away from the old lady as we will question that she might in all likelihood be a swindler and if she indeed lost her wallet, why didn’t she go to the police station instead? However, personally I would choose to give her the 10 bucks for I wouldn’t want my mother, who might possibly not even be aware of where the police station is, to face the same situation one day without anyone willing to lend her a helping hand. If the amount asked for is a sum that we can afford, then why the hesitation?  If the need for the 10 bucks is genuine, your empathy would have helped an old lady to reach her home safely. She could very well be a swindler, and if so, what more you have to lose, except for the 10 bucks?

Albert Einstein once said the following:-

A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

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Posts by Allison Ong

Posted on 22 November 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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