Jules and I saw an outstanding production of King Lear in Philadelphia the other day. As always with Shakespeare, I kept marveling over the ineffable breadth and depth and pith and poetry of his insight into human experience. But one line in particular stood out, I think because we've been reflecting so much on the emotions around here lately.
It's among the concluding lines of the drama. Nearly all the principal characters have died or been killed. The Duke of Albany, says:
The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
Especially in weighty moments, we should "speak what we feel." Why? Because it is in and through the emotions that the self makes contact with Reality. It's only then and there (I mean where we are in contact with Reality in all its concreteness) that we are free to respond and act in the deep, personalistic, self-determining sense.
When instead of speaking what we feel, we speak what we think we ought to say—the conventional thing, say, or what we imagine a saint might say in these circumstances—we are missing our chance. We are alienating ourselves from ourselves and from the moral stuff of the moment.
I am coming to believe that this is the most common and chronic forms of dishonesty in and among us—even among the very religious.
We think we are being virtuous when we deny or suppress what we feel and instead say what we think ought to be said.
For instance, someone does something hurtful to us, and instead of expressing the anger we really feel, we say, "I'm not mad." We say that because we think it's more virtuous not to be mad. We confuse saying the (supposed) virtuous thing with giving a virtous response. We do this so habitually that we are unaware that we're doing it. Eventually we lose touch with what we feel, that is, with ourselves. We become more infected with denial and illusion.
This puts me in mind again of a post by Elizabether Esther that I may have mentioned before about why trying to be honest is better than trying to be to be good. I think she's right.
She's right, too, when she's says being honest is "way harder." Until I read that post and started making a more conscious effort to be honest rather than "good," I would have characterized myself as an honest person. I'm learning now how far I am from deserving the designation (though I'm trying!). To be honest with ourselves and about ourselves with others and before God is extremely challenging. It's also our best hope of Reality and redemption.