April 3, 2016

BANKS | Empty Victories

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Flaurst: The desire to seize that blessed moment of first laughter and experience the gift anew in the form of a second, equally genuine laughing experience.

You won’t find this word on Google anywhere, at least not in the way I’ve used it. Coupled with “glithering” from my last column, I suppose I’ve been in an inventive mood lately. Quite frankly, that’s the only mood I’ve been in, as far as writing is concerned.

I’m not bereft of emotions, mind you. I have plenty of thoughts. Always do. But not one of them lends itself to a column at this moment. In fact, for the first time in nearly two years, I have nothing to serve as a galvanizing force for me. Blame the indolence of Spring Break.

Still, you can’t invent a word if you don’t have any subsequent plans, right? So I suppose this column will be about laughter, and by association, emotions.

Laughter and happiness are the easiest to defend. The indescribable sensation of laughing has been contorted and compressed into more uninspired clichés than I care to describe here. Thus, I won’t be spending too much time on happiness, if only because being happy is the best way to gain understanding. I will say this though: the best laughter is the dangerous kind. The kind where you realize you can’t breathe, all the while awash with a strange, addictive euphoria from the sensation. Happiness of this sort is like an ancient, esteemed timeless beast that snags you, transforming your face into 100 percent plastered smile, half-closed eyes and creases galore — an unnatural embouchure that still feels true to even the most dour of us. A relentless, uncontrollable shaking and falling and crying and pseudo-dying takes hold of your body. Esoteric utterances, shrieks and inimitable ululations force themselves out of your mouth … you get the point.

And then, of course, comes the quiet, suppressed sadness of having hit your pleasure zenith, followed immediately by the silent acceptance that your laughter is dying down.

But we need sadness too! When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to cry or mourn, we’re bound to cry more and feel more deeply. This is why those who battle the sadness of others with silver linings often find themselves failing miserably, or perhaps even succumbing to sadness themselves. Only true empathy can coexist with sadness. People don’t like to admit the truth: that the harrowing journey through your own pain, reified in the form of tears, can have a palliative effect. To an extent, at least. In the emotional triumvirate from which all other experiences are derived, laughter and happiness can be fed the most. Sadness and tears, on the other hand, can only be fed a little.

Anger, on the other hand, is much more sinister and unstoppable when fed. We feed sadness so that we might purge a significant amount of the least productive tensions housed within our bodies and begin the next step in the process of growth. We feed anger so that we might store as much of those tensions as possible within us until we are unable to escape the trawling entanglements of their sinful, self-destructive web.

There is nothing more frightening than our capacity to become self-propelled by our own rage. Put simply, angry people absolutely love to find ways to remain angry. They love to feed their anger in as many different ways as possible. They love to send the opposing party hurtling into a frenzied maelstrom in the hopes that they might also become angry. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that an angry person hates more than a calm or happy person on the other side of a conflict/disagreement. This will engender incendiary language, provocative insults and subtle, aggressive-aggressive remarks, all of which are designed to snag the opposing party and lug them back towards the aforementioned maelstrom. The sole purpose of an angry person’s statements is often to trigger a response. Anything and everything will be done in order to give the angry person more or stronger reasons to be angry, feel justified in their relentless anger, give in to its allure and soak/sulk in the milieu of seductive, adrenaline-infused experiences that come with anger.

The key to escaping the anger of someone with whom you want reconciliation is to embrace that most inhuman of traits: humility. To be humble enough to rigorously critique oneself. To be humble enough to listen in earnest. To be humble enough to —no matter how sure you are that you are in the right on this one, that the other person is blowing it out of proportion, that you have made valid points — be wrong or, even better, to be quiet. Sometimes you just have to say “I cannot win this battle. I know that there is more that could be said or done. I feel that I am in the right. I feel that this is unfair. But I’m going to put all of that aside for the greater good. I’m going to concede defeat. I will absorb every insult, every low blow engineered to procure some kind of antagonistic response from me.” Only then will their anger run its course.

The emptiness that follows this decision can seem unbearable and untenable. It’s incredibly unfulfilling to forgive, to willingly place oneself beneath another (or at least present oneself that way). I get no satisfaction from the act. But the peace and silence that comes with forgiveness and humility is too sweet to deny. For these, I will sacrifice my own hubris and lust — my desire to be heard and triumph in these verbal battles.

I will not feed useless anger. That being said, be warned that not all anger is inherently bad. Stay tuned.

Amiri Banks is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at abanks@cornellsun.com. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.

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