Well over 2000 years ago, there was one of those brief cultural flowerings that periodically occur throughout human history. Ancient Greece went into bloom. There was an explosion of philosophy, literature, mathematics, trade and new forms of government. And one of the areas that flourished was theater. There was a serious talent cluster around playwriting in Greece that included Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripedes, Eumenedes and Aristophanes. Looking back at this golden age of drama, Aristotle noticed a pattern. A lot of what drama was doing was giving people catharsis. It was allowing people to have a good cry.
Catharsis is just the Greek word for purification or cleansing. Humans suppress emotions. They bottle them up. They don’t want people to see what they’re really feeling. What if my wife found out that I resent her success? What if my mother found out that I feel ashamed of her drinking? What if my son found out that I feel like he married the wrong woman? What if my boss found out that I am in love with her? We feel what we feel but we also live in a culture and a complex web of social relationships where sometimes those feelings aren’t appropriate or would threaten our social status. Or because showing that emotion would demand something of the people around us.
The W.E.I.R.D. culture that makes up much of the global elite values independence. It sees the world as a series of disconnected objects. And the American variety in particular values an optimistic taking charge of life, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and kicking ass and taking names. And so, what place is there in all that for sadness? Sadness, let’s face it, is depressing. It’s also not clear why sadness is even there. In fact, that’s the central plot point of Inside Out.
In fact, the whole movie builds to the following section which this YouTuber has entitled “Sadness helps Riley.”
Think about this scene in an evolutionary context. Riley has a series of emotions that she has shut down because she doesn’t know HOW to cope with them. How does she reveal these emotions or work through them in her environment? And that has all become so uncomfortable and so unbearable that she is going to run away from the tribe. But humans aren’t individually tough. On our own, we die. We need the group. And so, this emotion of sadness kicks in that helps draw us back into the community and expose all our feelings. It’s a great evolutionary survival mechanism. We have a good cry. We talk out our feelings. The tribe is stronger. We all move on.
But sadness requires us revealing WEAKNESS, VULNERABILITY and the need for OTHERS TO HELP US. Moreover, it might require revealing a whole bunch of other emotions that we’ve hidden from family and friends for YEARS. And, like Riley, it can be hard to have all your joy turn to sadness even for a little while. But that cry can be a good cry. It’s why so many of us love Pixar movies. They give us an opportunity for catharsis that in a culture in which we’re often trying to keep up appearances we often don’t get.
Of course, there are times and places where this may be more or less appropriate. Riley cries to her family. She has a strong relationship with them. It’s probably not appropriate for a first date which is when I first saw Inside Out. Let’s just say there was no second date. Don’t regret it though. Inside Out turned me inside out emotionally. It was one of the best cries I’ve ever had. And sadness it turns is the emotion that makes your team come to help.
Of course, not everyone has a team in the modern world. And that’s something we’re going to take a look at when we look at depression…a state where you get stuck being sad without ever reaching any sort of catharsis.
In the meantime, if you don’t have a team you can count on, come join the Mixed Mental Arts dojo. We’d be honored to have you play with us.