Destructive Emotions : How Can We Overcome Them? : A Scientific Dialogue With the Dalai Lama – Daniel Goleman

Chapter 6
The Universality of Emotion
“….I would like to mention individual differences in emotion. I started with universals, but for the last ten years I have been working on how each individual differs. People have individual differences in their affective style. Some people’s emotions occur much more quickly than others. Some people have a much stronger emotional response. In some people the emotion lasts longer. Some people’s signals are very clear, and those of others are hard to see.

“Our findings show that the emotional system is unified, not fragmented, in most people. It is not, as some earlier scientists had claimed, that you can have a big expression and a small physiological response. The different parts of the emotional package go together. If expression are big or fast, so are the changes in bodily systems directed by the autonomic nervous system. We have shown that, by and large, these differences among individuals are not limited to one emotion. If you have a big anger response, you will have a big fear response too.”

“These differences suggest one reason people may have emotional misunderstandings: We all-naturally, but incorrectly-assume that others experience emotions exactly as we do. Paul’s findings also suggest that some people-those with fast, strong, and long emotional responses-may have particular difficulty managing their emotions……
Paul later told me that he had been struck by how openly and freely the Dalai Lama expressed his feeling. His face, Paul saw, was unusually expressive, revealing moment-to-moment changes not only in his emotions but in his thoughts: You could sense in his face when he was concentrating, doubting, understanding, agreeing. And then, most prominent of all, there was his extraordinary good humour, a perpetual sense of bemusement and delight that expressed itself as contagious enjoyment of every nuance of life that presents itself.

That is not to say, Paul noted, that the Dalai Lama fails to experience sadness or other such feelings. Indeed, he seems highly responsive to the suffering of others, his anguish at their pain fully evident on this face-at least for a moment. But Paul was also struck by how quickly he recovered from distressing emotion-and that his more typical mode of response to others was always seeing the potential enjoyment or amusement, the positive side of whatever was occurring.

As a connoisseur of the human face, Paul had found the Dalai Lama’s unusual in several other ways. For one, it was unusually large, and its muscles highly articulated. But more striking was how young it seemed-his face had the muscle tone of someone in this twenties, not a man of sixty-four. That, Paul speculated was a consequence of the Dalai Lama never restraining his emotions, but instead letting them show clearly on his face-which means the muscles are used a lot more than usual. While most people acquire a self-consciousness that leads them to restrain the free expression of their emotions, the Dalai Lama appeared completely unself-conscious about showing them.

This lack of restraint, in turn, bespoke an unusual sense of confidence. Most children by age four or five have come to feel shame about certain feelings, and so begin a lifelong pattern of restraint in that portion of the spectrum of emotion. But the Dalai Lama appeared to Paul never to have learned to be ashamed about how he feels-something that occurs only in the most fortunate children.
“The technical definition of compassion,” Matthieu clarified from the Buddhist perspective, “is the wish that others may be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, while love is defined as the wish that others be happy and find the causes for happiness.”

“There is no question that parents will sacrifice their life for the child, without thought, because of the nature of this engagement,” Paul continued. “Before reading your books, I thought that this was unique, that one never felt this except for one’s child. You raise the question whether one can feel it for a much wider group of people. I hope we can come back to this issue because I don’t have more to say other than to express some of my wonderment about it.”

“I wonder whether you can make a distinction between afflictive and nonafflictive compassion,” commented the Dalai Lama. “An instance of afflictive compassion is a case in which the object of one’s compassion is also an object of one’s attachment. One sees this as desirable. You see your child as so cute and so adorable that if the child comes in the harm’s way, there is attachment and compassion together. Whereas in other instances the object of one’s compassion is really not at all an object of attachment-it could even be an enemy. That would be non-afflictive compassion.”

“That is a very critical distinction that you raise,” Paul replied. “I think possessiveness is an aspect of the first type of compassion. I feel, as a parent, the hardest thing for me to learn was to grant autonomy to my children. Just at the point when they got old enough to be able to really harm themselves, I couldn’t control them. I had to allow them their freedom, and that is very hard for a parent to do, because you don’t want anything bad to happen. But if you don’t allow them the freedom to lead their own lives, then something bad has happened. Being a parent means you are committed to worry.”

“You are a very good father!” the Dalai Lama said, laughing at first, then nodding with a serious expression, underscoring the sincerity of his remark as the laughter in the room faded. His holiness later told me that he had genuinely found Paul’s remarks both eloquent and touching.
“Buddhist psychology,” the Dalai Lama continued the point, “has concepts for the cause and mechanism of the arising of anger. The term used for what gives rise to anger is literally translated as ‘mental unhappiness,’ but that’s not it really. It’s an abiding sense of dissatisfaction. When you have that dissatisfaction, then you can readily become irritable. You are immediately prone to anger….”
Paul wished to continue his exploration of anger “because it is such a troublesome emotion-the emotion during which we are most likely to hurt others. First, I believe that violence is not built into anger-not a necessary or biologically required consequence. I maintain, though I don’t have evidence for it, that what is built into the anger response is the impulse to remove the obstacle that is thwarting us. That does not necessarily require violence.”

The Dalai Lama asked, “Are you saying that violence or harming others is not really the purpose of goal of anger from the perspective of the evolutionary theme-that, rather, the purpose of anger is to stop whatever is interfering?”

“This is my view,” said Paul. “There isn’t evidence, nor is there necessarily agreement among all Western scholars or scientists. I have listed here the most common events that precede anger: physical interference, frustration, someone trying to hurt us, another person’s anger. One of the most dangerous things about anger is that anger calls forth anger. It requires great effort to be able to not respond to anger with anger.”

At this, the Dalai Lama nodded in vigorous agreement.

Paul went on, “Disappointment in another person’s belief that offended us can also produce anger. Interference is the common theme for all of these.”

The Dalai Lama commented, “In Buddhism there is an understanding that tolerance and anger are opposites. Tolerance or patience in the face of harm caused by others is the opposite of actual violence. I am trying to figure out whether that fits into your point that the purpose of anger, from the evolutionary point of view, is not violence.”

Paul answered, “I would like to take it one step further and say that very often the most successful way to remove the obstacle is to take the perspective of the other person. Rather than verbally or physically reacting, you deal with and understand why the person appears to be creating an obstacle. In His Holiness’s writings, there is a distinction made between the act and the actor, which I think is really very compatible with the Western viewpoint.”
“Before I conclude, I would like to just briefly turn to sadness and agony and make one important contrast,” Paul said as he showed a slide of a woman with her face contorted in suffering. As he saw the slide, the Dalai Lama’s face briefly mirrored her anguished expression.

Paul compared the image of the woman with a newspaper photograph of a group of angry men at a political demonstration. “I ask you first,” Paul said, “to be aware of the difference in your reaction to see in those angry men in the other slide. I don’t believe that when we see anger represented in a photograph, it reaches us as it would if we we were present. Yet this photograph of a woman we don’t know reaches most people: You feel her suffering. She suffers, and it is an important part of the nature of suffering that the signal asks us for help and we feel that request.”

“Therefore I would argue that basic human nature is compassionate,” the Dalai Lama said.

“I would not disagree,” Paul replied.

“It may be a feeble argument,” the Dalai Lama said with a laugh.

“No,” Paul dissented. “Actually I think it’s an important issue. This is one of the lessons we learn from suffering, and it is critically related to the development of compassion. Compassion arises far more easily in response to suffering than in response to anger.”

“I am wondering,” the Dalai Lama suggested, “whether there really is a valid distinction between seeing an image of an angry person, which doesn’t elicit any emotional response in the viewer, and seeing a soulful image that elicits a response.”

“Is it valid?” Paul replied. “I would say it is. The power of suffering is so great that it can reach us even through a photograph. Anger is contagious when someone gets angry with us and we get angry back-just as when someone laughs we laugh with them. Fear is not so contagious. It can be, but not nearly as much as anger, mirth, or suffering. To me this is a testament. It’s evidence of the great power of suffering to elicit compassion,…

“….I would like to close my formal presentation with a quote from Charles Darwin…..It is from the last page of his book The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals: ‘The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it.’

“That raises a question about controlling expression. If expression makes the emotion stronger and we don’t wish to act on it, then here is a technique that can help us when we are in the grip of an emotion. Do not express it openly.

“To continue now with Darwin. ‘On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible of all outward signs, softens our emotions. He who gives way to violent gestures will increase his rage. He who does not control the signs of fear will experience fear in a greater degree, and he who remains passive when overwhelmed with grief loses his best chance of recovering elasticity of mind.’


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