Although the potential range of emotional experience is essentially the same in all human beings, each culture exhibits its own patterns, inculcating certain feelings while discouraging others, promoting either expression or restraint, and defining variously the place of the emotions in everyday life.

Americans believe that every person’s interior life is unique; consequently, an individual’s tastes, feelings, desires, and expectations are thought to be a private affair. As a result, I received little or no instruction about my emotions. In grammar school, I learned the hemoglobin in the red blood cells captures oxygen, the heart pumps blood to the brain and other organs, and an oxygen-deficient brain results in stroke or death, but I never heard a teacher explain the nature of emotions. In high school, I learned why the free market works, when General Motors was founded, and even how to change a tire on a car, but I did not learn why the emotions exist, when to place confidence in a feeling, or how to change an emotional habit. Even after graduate school, I remained fundamentally ignorant about my emotional life and thus about an important aspect of who I am. That my teachers explained biological life, not emotional life, told me that the rollercoaster of love and hate, joy and sorrow, hope and despair that I rode in my youth was something I would just have to accept as part of my nature. From the absence of instruction about the emotions in the standard public school and college curriculum, I, like others, drew the obvious, but erroneous, conclusion that the emotional life is not open to rational understanding, even though we all recognize that love, anger, joy, fear, desire, and sorrow are universal.

The Universality of Emotions

To demonstrate the universality of the emotions psychologists Paul Ekman and Carroll Izard, independently, photographed faces expressing surprise, anguish, disgust, anger, shame, fear, and excitement, and then showed the photographs to scores of persons in over a dozen cultures. The interviewees in every culture agreed on the identity of all the emotions represented in the photographs. Izard concluded, “Certain…fundamental emotions have the same expressions and experiential qualities in widely different cultures from virtually every continent of the globe, including isolated preliterate cultures having had virtually no contact with Western civilization.”[1]

Psychologist James Russell, after a comprehensive review of the cross-cultural studies on emotion, also concluded, “Smiles, frowns, and other facial expressions are given similar meaning in all cultures studied. There is a core of emotional communication that has to do with being human rather than with being a member of a particular culture.”[2] Forty-three muscles tug the human face into 7,000 different expressions. Yet, in all cultures, such fundamental emotions as happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, anger, and fear are expressed identically on every face. For a schematic representation of the natural facial expression of these six different emotions, see illustration.[3]

That the expression of the fundamental emotions is determined by nature does not mean that no aspect of any emotion can be modified through experience. We all know from personal experience that we can learn to inhibit or modify innate emotional expressions. Izard elaborates: “While the innate expression of anger involves baring of the teeth as in preparation for biting, many people clinch their teeth and compress their lips as though to soften or disguise the expression. People of different social backgrounds and different cultures may learn quite different facial movements for modifying innate expressions.”[4]

I did not begin to understand my emotional life until I read Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. Unlike neuroscientists and psychologists today, these ancient thinkers began with the direct observation of the interior life and then through reflection discovered deep truths about human nature.

Following my ancient guides, let me first distinguish emotion from sense perception. Every emotion is caused by a sense perception, or by something imagined or remembered. Anger, for example, may be provoked by the perception of an insult, fear by an imagined future evil, sorrow by the memory of a past suffering. Although often aroused by some sensation, an emotion is not a sense perception. Fear does not designate the mere perception of an object but a response to that object. An emotion inclines us toward an object or moves us away from it.

The intuitive appraisal of the object that arouses an emotion is not deliberate or the result of reflection, but is immediate, as is seen in a boy who suffers from an intense fear of dogs. Any time he sees a dog, he immediately experiences a paralyzing fear. The boy, clearly, does not will this fear in himself, and most likely he wishes to be rid of his phobia. To demonstrate that the emotions and the will are not the same, Charles Darwin performed an experiment with a snake: “I put my face close to the thick glass‑plate in front of a puff‑adder in the Zoological Gardens, with the firm determination of not starting back if the snake struck at me; but, as soon as the blow was struck, my resolution went for nothing, and I jumped a yard or two backwards with astonishing rapidity. My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced.”[5]

Every emotion is a psychophysical phenomenon. Anger is accompanied by tightness in the chest, by the tensing of the muscles, and by a clenched jaw; fear causes the heart to beat rapidly, the hands to sweat, the face to burn, the knees to knock, and sometimes the fingers to tingle. Many emotions have characteristic facial expressions: when embarrassed, we blush; when fearful, we pale. Changes in respiration, heart rate, temperature, or other bodily states always accompany the various emotions. These physiological changes are not mere aftereffects but constitute the physical component of the emotion.

An emotion, thus, may be defined as an inclination toward anything intuitively appraised as good or a movement away from anything intuitively appraised as bad. Because an emotion is an impulse to action, it is not a mere neurological state, psychological condition, or mood. Ekman notes, “Moods can last a whole day, sometimes two days, while emotions can come and go in minutes, sometimes seconds. A mood resembles a slight but continuous emotional state.”[6] When in an irritable mood, a person is annoyed all the time, seeking an opportunity to become angry, interpreting the world in a way that permits, or even requires, him or her to become angry. The three primitive drives—hunger, thirst, and sex—are not emotions, either; they are directed toward the nutrition, the growth, and the reproduction of the body.

Love: The Primary Emotion

How are the various emotions distinguished from each other? At first glance, I thought that the seemingly infinite variety of emotions makes them impossible to classify. But Aquinas showed me that the object of an emotion can be related to a person in only a limited number of ways. The object may be either good or bad, either present or absent, and either easy or difficult to attain (or avoid). The emotions that occur under these simple conditions may be called the basic emotions.[7]

When a person intuitively appraises that an object is good for him, love is evoked; the motion toward obtaining the object is called desire; and when he rests in the good attained he experiences pleasure. (We reserve the word “pleasure” to indicate the satisfaction of a bodily desire and the word “joy” to mean the satisfaction of a rational desire, although in common speech the two words are often used interchangeably.)

To take a simple example: If a person likes pastrami and happens to pick up its smell coming from a delicatessen across the street at a time when he is hungry, he will probably desire a pastrami sandwich, go to the delicatessen and order one, and then feel pleasure when he bites into the tasty sandwich. He, of course, may because of a business appointment exercise his will and act contrary to his emotional impulse to obtain a pastrami sandwich.

The three contrary emotions—hate, aversion, and sorrow—are evoked in a similar way by something bad. For example, if a woman finds a coworker to be boastful, vulgar, and obnoxious, she will try to avoid him. And if she is forced for some reason to eat lunch with him, she will feel sorrow.

When a person desires a future good that can be attained only with great difficulty, two opposite emotions are possible, hope and despair. An aspiring novelist whose first work is rejected by several publishers in a row will waver between hope and despair, depending on whether she considers getting her work published to be possible or not. In hope, the object is considered so desirable that a person pursues it despite the difficulties and obstacles. In despair, a person abandons the pursuit of a good, because she considers it impossible or no longer worth the effort.

In a similar way, fear and courage, deal with a future evil difficult to avoid. Imagine a man accused of incompetence by a coworker and forced to face his accuser before the boss. He will most likely experience fear before the confrontation takes place, but he may possess a confidence in the justice of his case that will engender courage in facing the future threat.

One final emotion, anger, deals with a difficult evil already present. Anger differs from sorrow, because it struggles to repel a suffered evil, while sorrow acquiesces in the suffering. One day a man becomes so angered by annoying telephone calls from telemarketers that he yells into the phone, “Take my name off your blankety-blank calling list,” and slams the receiver down. Anger alone has no contrary emotion, since its opposite would have to regard a good already present as difficult to obtain.

These divisions, then, yield eleven basic emotions: love, desire, pleasure, hate, aversion, sorrow, hope, despair, fear, courage, and anger. All other emotions can be considered either as species of these basic emotions or as compounded from them. For example, there are many species of sorrow: pity is sorrow for the misery of another; envy is sorrow at another’s prosperity; loneliness is the sorrow caused by the lack of companionship. Rage, wrath, annoyance, and irritation are all forms of anger, distinguished by their intensity. Jealousy is a compound emotion, aroused by various and often opposite aspects of the same person, including love and hatred of the loved one, anger at the loved one or the third party, and a fear of loss. A divorced wife may still experience her ex-husband with love or hatred, depending on what past events she recalls or imagines.

The eleven basic emotions are ordered to each other in a simple way. Love is primary, for without love none of the other emotions exist. Unless we love something, we do not desire it or take pleasure in its possession; unless we hate something, we do not flee from it or feel sorrow at its presence. But hate cannot be the primary emotion; the good attracts us as such, while the bad repels us because it threatens to destroy some good we love. We hate disease because we love health and not vice versa. As we have seen, the other basic emotions—hope, despair, fear, courage and anger—all result from either love or hate. Thus, love is primary, and all other emotions are secondary.

In summary, we love the good, desire it when present, and rest in pleasure when it is attained. When the good is absent and difficult, we either hope or despair. We hate the bad, try to avert it, and if anger does not repel it, we acquiesce in sorrow. When the bad is in the future and difficult to avoid, we experience either courage or fear. Love is primary, because the good attracts us as such, while the bad threatens to destroy some good we love. (See Table of the eleven basic emotions.)



Good Love Bad Hate
Good+Present Desire Bad+Present Aversion
Good+Present+Easy Pleasure Bad+Present+Difficult Sorrow or Anger
Good+Absent+Difficult Hope or Despair Bad+Future+Difficult Courage or Fear

The above discussion applies to the higher animals as well as humans. Suppose my neighbor Viktor shows a bone to his dog Sassy and then teases her by almost, but not quite, letting her have it. After a short time, Sassy will become angry, and if Viktor continues to provoke his pet, she will turn on him; Sassy’s anger will displace her desire for the bone. A sheep experiences fear when seeing a wolf, and a wolf feels hope when seeing a sheep.

Pet owners and animal trainers know how their animals express emotions through their bodies. Darwin, for instance, described the bodily state of an angry dog about to attack its enemy: “the tail is held erect, and quite rigid; the hairs bristle, especially along the neck and back; the pricked ears are directed forwards, the eyes have a fixed stare…the canine teeth are uncovered, and the ears are pressed close backwards on the head.”[8] (See illustration of a dog approaching another dog with angry intentions.[9])

In contrast, when the same angry dog suddenly sees its master, “instead of walking upright, the body sinks downwards or even crouches, and is thrown into flexuous movements; his tail, instead of being held stiff and upright, is lowered and wagged from side to side; his hair instantly becomes smooth; his ears are depressed and drawn backwards, but not closely to the head; and his lips hang loosely.”[10] (See illustration of the same dog humble and affectionate.)

The Intensity of Emotions

In a group-centered culture, a young child lives in close daily contact with numerous relatives and as a result has relationships with many adults. Unlike the American nuclear family composed of father, mother, and unmarried children, the traditional Chinese family includes grandparents and in-laws. In America, most children have “wedding and funeral” relatives who see them only on such occasions.

Anthropologist Francis Hsu explains that when a child is surrounded regularly by many adults whom the parents hold in high esteem, such as grandparents, uncles, and aunts, the child’s emotional attachments are many, but “diluted,” and “his diffused relationship with parents and relatives likewise tempers his emotional involvements.”[11] Thus, generally in a group-centered culture, emotional relationships are wide, but mild. Exceptions do occur. Italians are known for their emotional expressiveness, mirrored in the operas of Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini. Italian culture encourages, if not demands, that emotions be intense and be expressed.

In many, if not most, American families from the moment an infant is born he is treated as an autonomous individual. Unlike the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, now most American babies are born in a hospital and into a world of strangers. Many parents bring their new baby home and put him in a room by himself. Often, the infant spends hours by himself with only plastic toys strung over his crib to see, or when he learns to turn his head, he stares at a blank wall. He may hear the television set in the living room or the babysitter’s voice as she talks on the telephone to a friend. (See illustration.) The baby sleeps by himself, and when he fusses or cries, even for extended periods of time, the parents leave him alone so they will not spoil him. In this way, the parents teach their child that he cannot rely on the outside world to comfort him, so he is forced to seek emotional security and satisfaction within himself. The child learns he is an individual, and later in life will seldom have strong attachments to any group.

The small family circle in America “inevitably concentrates emotions at a few points.”[12] For the young American child, his parents are perhaps the only adults with whom he has extended daily contact. The exclusivity of the parent-child relationship in America fosters deep emotional involvement. The emotional pattern of few but intense emotional relationships is drawn in the American child’s earliest years, beginning with infancy. We have all probably observed that when a babysitter or a parent comes into an American infant’s room, the baby kicks his feet wildly with excitement. A baby reared in this country alternates between no emotion and intense emotion, and, in this way, acquires very early in life the habit of forming intense emotional relationships with only a few people.

In adult life, we Americans often want to keep human ties to a minimum and abandon one relationship when we adopt another. One woman describes how human relations are formed and broken throughout American life: “You got to love your fella enough to leave your family for him, although you had to love them enough to stay with them until he came along. Then you got to love your babies enough to leave everyone—including your husband if necessary—to raise ‘em. But don’t go and expect much in return, for they are just getting ready to go off and leave you with somebody they meet at a picnic or dance.”[13]

The American Emotional Profile

Although the potential range of emotional experience is essentially the same in all human beings, each culture exhibits its own patterns, inculcating certain feelings while discouraging others, promoting either expression or restraint, and defining variously the place of the emotions in everyday life.

In America, each one of us is given an emotional profile that accords with the idea that we are separate, isolated individuals. If we are isolated from others, we see only our own needs and desires—nothing else is apparent to us. Our isolation leads us to see the world and other persons only in terms of our wants. When others frustrate the attainment of our desires, we become angry; when others have what we lack, we become envious; when we cannot get what we desire, we feel sorry for ourselves. Our isolation from others, then, predisposes us to such negative emotions as anger, envy, and self-pity.

Circumstances modify this emotional profile; nevertheless, all isolated individuals have a common profile. As a result, the emotional responses of Americans are predictable. Drive any freeway in Massachusetts or California and you see raw anger, the honking of horns, and the shaking of fists. If you want to hear an expression of self-pity, turn on any country radio station in any city in the United States.

Anger, envy, and self-pity are such a part of everyday American life that we take the intensity with which we feel these emotions as natural. But Eskimos rarely experience these emotions. They speak of the white man’s “world where people are always loud and angry.”[14] In Eskimo culture showing anger to someone’s face is not acceptable. Anthropologist Jean Biggs was ostracized from her adoptive Utku Eskimo community for several weeks because of her single outburst of anger against white fishermen who she thought were taking advantage of the Eskimos. Anger frightens and sickens Eskimos, for it destroys their web of human relationships. The rarity of anger in Eskimo culture harmonizes with the need for group solidarity. The prevalence of anger in American life suits a political and economic system where isolated, autonomous individuals compete for prizes, prestige, and material goods.

But equality tempers the negative emotions of the isolated individual. When we Americans see hardships and suffering, we easily imagine ourselves in the position of those in need. We generously support philanthropic enterprises, and in times of disaster, such as hurricane Katrina or the attacks of 9/11, the deeper the misery of others the more our hearts pour out words of sympathy and our hands write larger checks. Many of us travel great distances and endure hardships ourselves to aid disaster victims. The source of such noble action is a democratic equality that engrains generosity in the American character.

How to Change an Emotional Habit

Neither intellectual insight nor verbal command alone will change an emotional habit. When sad, we may tell ourselves to cheer up; yet, the gloom remains, or if it does depart, it soon returns. We may realize that we grew up isolated from other persons and are thus distrustful of human relations; yet, we seem unable to break through the barrier that separates us from others. Most of us know that we have the power to choose what we think, but mistakenly believe we cannot change how we feel. What we fail to grasp is that most habits are formed through repeated action and that consequently a new habit can only be acquired through the performance of a different action.

Consider a piano virtuoso, such as Alicia de Larrocha. In playing a passage from a Mozart cadenza, she does not stop to think which finger will play middle C. Her fingers move out of habit, in the same way that a keyboard operator types the word “the” without thinking. But suppose when Miss Larrocha was a beginning student, she learned to play the passage incorrectly. Then, to replace a bad habit of playing with a good one, she had to struggle to play the passage correctly over and over, first slowly, then up to tempo, until a new habit was acquired.

An undesired emotional habit can be eliminated in two ways, by direct or indirect action. Since an emotion moves a person toward or away from an object, one way to eliminate an emotional habit is for a person to use willpower to perform an action that opposes the tendency of the emotional habit.

For example, when I was ten years old, Ed and Frank Fleck, both in their late twenties, lived directly across the street. To my ten-year-old mind, the Fleck brothers knew everything there was to know. They built boats, repaired cars, knew how television sets worked, and even had their own amateur radio station.

The Fleck brothers had a mammoth workshop. I often went down into their damp basement to borrow tools. One day when I flipped the toggle switch to turn off the overheard fluorescent lights, my right hand was suddenly paralyzed, and my knees buckled. I fell to the damp floor, and my heart did weird things. I managed to stand up, but my knees shook. I knew I had narrowly escaped death by electrocution.

Later, Ed, the older brother, took the switch apart and explained to me how it had failed. He repaired the faulty switch, but I refused to touch it with my bare hand. Several days later when I went to borrow a vacuum tube voltmeter, I used a piece of dry wood to turn the lights on and off, even though I knew I would not receive an electric shock if I touched the switch. My reason told me, “The switch has been repaired and is harmless now,” and my emo­tions told me, “If you touch that switch, you’ll hit the floor, again.”

My emotions always prevailed until several months later Ed, standing at the other end of the workbench, asked me to turn off the fluorescent lights. I was momentarily paralyzed, for I was embarrassed to have him see me use a dry stick to throw the switch and also afraid to touch the switch with my hand. Only by a supreme act of the will did I switch off the lights with my hand. After that I never feared to touch the switch.

To use sheer willpower to eliminate a bad emotional habit is generally difficult and unpleasant. A better strategy is to use indirect action. Surprisingly, if a person focuses his or her awareness on the physical component of an emotion, the emotion spontaneously weakens or disappears altogether. Suppose a man has formed the bad habit of becoming angered by the slightest inconveniences, or worse yet, just waits for something to happen so he can become angry. He can change this habit by focusing his awareness on the tightness in his chest every time he gets angry. Over time, his anger will become less intense and less frequent, and eventually his bad emotional habit will be gone. But if the man focuses his awareness on the emotion itself, his anger will intensify and become more deeply established.

Another indirect way to eliminate an undesired emotional habit is through gradual desensitization. Many people, for instance, have a fear that is irrational even to them, such as the fear of being away from home, flying, or public speaking. What keeps a fear alive is avoidance of what is feared. Avoidance produces an immediate sense of relief but entrenches the fear. To overcome a fear, a person must face what he or she fears, and this takes real courage, especially if the fear is a long-standing one. Most people find it easier to gradually face their fear, often with the help of a friend.

Over thirty percent of Americans report that public speaking is their number one fear, ahead of the dark, heights, loneliness, sickness, and even death. For a telephone linesman, an assembly-line worker, or a lumberjack, the fear of public speaking is no more than an occasional nuisance, but for a freshman college student enrolled in a seminar in English literature such a fear can be disastrous. Consider a young woman who fears being called upon by the professor and tries to hide by sitting at the corner of the seminar table. When she sees connections in a novel that the other members of the seminar miss, she ardently desires to contribute her insights to the discussion, but cannot. Skipped heartbeats, a blushing face, and light-headedness prevent her from speaking. Her inability to speak in the seminar leads to embarrassment, lack of confidence, anger at herself, and increased fear.

To overcome her fear, she could start with an easy task, say, forcing herself in the seminar to ask one simple question, such as “I’m sorry. What did you say?” This first step probably would make her slightly anxious but not frighten her so much that she could not do it. Once comfortable with asking simple questions, she could offer her opinion or insight in terms of a question: “Is Aaron’s relationship with his mother important here?” Later, she could have a friend in the seminar ask her to repeat her question, and, in this way, she would begin to engage in public discourse. Through such gradual de-sensitization, her fear of public speaking will weaken. With courage, she will overcome the inevitable setbacks, and with persistence, she will continue, for years if necessary, to break down a bad emotional habit.

A desired emotional habit can be acquired by using the principle that a person becomes what he or she does. Alicia de Larrocha became an excellent pianist by playing the piano excellently. This may seem circular, but it is not. A person becomes courageous by performing courageous acts, or generous by performing generous acts. Since we become the way we act, a person can become a different kind of person by acting as if he or she were already that kind of person.

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu gives his own life as an example. He confesses that he was “brought up as a stiff, stuffed-shirt Englishman who considered that any exhibition of emotion was low class. To be very cutting in one’s wit no matter how unpleasant it was, how denigrating it was to another person, was correct behavior.” Montagu says he changed from a nasty, hostile, aggressive creature simply by acting as if he were a loving human being. He recommends, “If you’re not yet a loving human being, what you have to do in order to change is begin to act ‘as if’ you were by demonstrative acts, by communicating to others, by throwing your arms around them, by taking them by the hand, by putting an arm around their shoulders. It’s enormously important to remember that ‘as if.’ You behave ‘as if’ you were a loving human being. If you go on behaving ‘as if’ you were a loving human being, one day you’ll wake up and find you’ve become what you’ve been doing.”[15]

I learned how to acquire new emotional habits from Aristotle, not Montagu. I first read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics when I was twenty-six and was skeptical of the philosopher’s contention that a person becomes generous or courageous by repeatedly performing generous or courageous acts, until a habit is established. I decided to test what I had read. At the time, I was geeky, socially awkward, and withdrawn, not unlike many of my physicist colleagues, all seemingly afflicted with Asperger syndrome. If Aristotle were correct, then I would not necessarily be condemned to an emotional life determined by the accidents of childhood, by my neglectful upbringing that made me shun human contact and made me more at home with machines, electronics, and physics apparatuses. In the hope of becoming socially adept, I forced myself to go up to anyone I felt uncomfortable around and initiate a conversation. While standing in a grocery-store line, I talked to strangers, at times asking about their lives. Within six months, I enjoyed the company of other humans, took a genuine interest in their lives, and delighted in the diverse stories I heard. Nowadays, my friends cannot believe that I was once a mousy introvert, seldom seen and never heard.

Choosing Emotional Habits

Human life is extraordinarily difficult, for what is good for us is so deeply hidden. Except for Homo sapiens, instinct determines what is good for an animal and how to achieve it. A male rhinoceros, for example, occupies the center of its territory and aggressive­ly chases away any male rhino that challenges him. However, a male rhino must leave its territory for water and then out of necessity crosses the territories of other adult males. When a rhino intrudes into another rhino’s territory for water, he becomes submissive. The farther a rhino strays from the center of his territory the more submissive he becomes. Thus, the aggression of the male rhino is regulated by nature.[16] An animal “knows” by nature what to eat, what to flee from, and when to breed. Fear forces a rabbit to flee from a coyote, not a ground squirrel; anger compels a moose to defend itself from an attacking wolf; desire causes bears to mate in late spring, so their cubs will be born in the winter den. Instinct directs each higher animal to have the right emotion at the right time, to the right degree, and for the right purpose.

If only human life were so simple. We must discover our deepest nature—the capacity to be connected to all that is.[17] To further complicate life for us, unlike rhinoceros and all the other animals, we humans have two ways of appraising what is good for us—the mind and the emotions—and neither appraisal is determined by nature; even worse, the mind and the emotions often give opposite appraisals of what is good for us. A person may know that he should lose weight, but he likes crusty French bread, camembert cheese, and wine; to further his career he should volunteer to give the next public presentation at work, but the thought of speaking in front of a group terrifies him; he should join a gym or a reading group to make new friends, but lacks hope the effort will pay off.

Since nature does not prescribe a fixed way of life for us, we have extraordinary freedom. We can become hunters like the lions, carpenters like the beavers, or musicians like the birds. Every animal activity we raise to a new level. Yet, because of our freedom and undetermined nature, we become confused and acquire faulty intellectual and emotional habits that are frequently at cross-purposes.

Are there any emotional habits that everyone should strive to acquire or attempt to avoid? At first, the answer seems “no,” since the human person is so unfinished by nature, and every culture constructs a different “I”.[18] But one universal, ordering principle for human life does exist: Every person has the capacity to be connected to all that is. Thus, any habit that disconnects a person from other people should be avoided. For instance, a person quick to anger will not only anger those around him or her, but will be unable to judge irksome situations accurately. A short-tempered person often gets angry with the wrong people under the wrong circumstances and afterwards may feel regret.

Just as the short-tempered person is avoided by others, so too is the grouch. No one desires to be around a person enveloped in gloom and doom, or to associate with a man or woman who sees only shadows and what is wrong with others. The constant complainer refuses to put up with anything, no matter how trivial, and as a result is quarrelsome.

If a person cannot share, he or she is cut off from others; so, clearly, stinginess and greediness are to be avoided. Stealing and cheating are worse, for the thief and the cheat cannot disclose their activities for all to see, and consequently have cut themselves off from humanity. Similarly, the known liar will not be listened to by others. The liar deprives himself or herself of the full use of language and reason, two faculties that differentiate human beings from the animals.

Thus, short-temperedness, quarrelsomeness, stinginess, greediness, and deceitfulness cut us off from others; but friendliness, a cheerful disposition, generosity, and truthfulness connect us to others.

If truthfulness is extended beyond truth-telling to include the capacity to see things exactly as they are, freed from subjective distortions, then, truthfulness also means to see oneself exactly for what one is, neither more nor less. Such self-awareness is humility. Objective sight reveals that underneath the faults and weaknesses of one’s neighbor lies suffering and a profound unknown. Compassion flows from seeing that one’s neighbor is essentially no different from oneself.

Ignorance, greed, and anger, what Buddha called the three poisons, are the obstacles that stand in the way of a person becoming connected to all that is. If we wish to become who we truly are by nature, we must strive to be truthful, selfless, and compassionate.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.


[1] Carroll E. Izard, Human Emotions (New York: Plenum, 1977), p. 6. Also see Paul Ekman, “Cross-Cultural Studies of Facial Ex­pression,” in Darwin and Facial Expression, ed. Paul Ekman (New York: Academic Press, 1973), pp. 169-221.

[2] James A. Russell, “Culture and the Categorization of Emo­tion,” Psychological Bulletin, 110 (Nov. 1991), p. 437.

[3] The schematic representation of the natural facial expression of six different emotions are taken from Carl-Herman Hjortsjö, Man’s Face and Mimic Language, trans. W. F. Salisbury (Lund, Sweden: Studentlitteratur, 1970).

[4] Izard, p. 6.

[5] Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 [1872]), pp. 43-44.

[6] Paul Ekman, Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Face and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life (New York: Times Books, 2003), p. 50.

[7] The emotions were first classified by Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica, II-I, Q. 22-25. Also see Augustine, City of God, Bk. XIV and Aristotle, Rhetoric, Bk. II. For a modern discussion see Magda Arnold, Emotion and Personality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), Vol. 1, pp. 193-199.

[8] Darwin, pp. 55-56.

[9] The two dog illustrations are from Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, p. 57.

[10] Ibid., p. 56.

[11] Francis L. K. Hsu, Americans and Chinese, (New York: Schuman, 1953), pp. 78, 79.

[12] Ibid., p. 79.

[13] Quoted by Margaret Park Redfield, “The American Family: Consensus and Freedom,” American Journal of Sociology 52 (Novem­ber 1946): 176-77. Italics in the original.

[14] Jean Biggs, Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 74.

[15] Ashley Montagu, interview Dennis Wholey, Discovering Happi­ness: Personal Conversations About Getting the Most Out of Life, (New York: Avon, 1988), pp. 37, 38.

[16] See Norman Owen-Smith, “Territoriality in the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) Burchell,” Nature 231 (June 4, 1971): 295.

[17] For a detailed discussion of this fundamental principle of human nature, see George Stanciu, “Wonder and Love: How Scientists Neglect God and Man” (June 4, 2016).

[18] For a discussion of how culture determines “I”, see George Stanciu, “Who Are We? The Mystery of ‘The Self’” (Oct 5, 2017).

The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.

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