Human beings are not the only animals on this earth who feel and experience emotions. Scientists, many of whom are convinced that animals do not have emotions, still argue this question.
Dr. Jeffrey Masson, author of several books about human-animal relationships, collected anecdotal evidence of animal emotion. His New York Times best-selling book, When Elephants Weep, contains stories collected from around the world that show animals responding to emotion, including such sophisticated emotions as compassion.
There’s the story of the forgetful young researcher who brought no lunch as he spent the day observing a family of monkeys in the jungle. As the monkeys plucked their lunch from the fruit trees high over his head, he unsuccessfully attempted to knock fruit down with a stick. He was surprised, minutes after he gave up, having a young juvenile monkey deliver freshly-picked fruit to him!
My favorite story is of a baby rhinoceros, stuck in a very fast-drying mud hole at the jungles’ edge. His mother became frantic and tried many things, unsuccessfully, to rescue him, at last running frustrated into the jungle. One of the three female elephants nearby walked over to the mud hole, positioned her long tusks under the baby’s body to lift him.
Suddenly, the angry mother rhinoceros thundered out of the jungle. The elephant withdrew and walked away. After another inspection, the wailing mother rhino dashed into the jungle. The elephant returned to attempt lifting the tyke. The mother again roared out of the jungle, challenged her; and she withdrew. Three times this movie ran, before the elephant gave up and went away, leaving the baby stuck.
I love this story
It is so clear that the elephant, crossing species lines, has respect for the baby’s mother and true compassion for the baby she is trying to help.
It was a very fast-drying mud hole. It continued to dry, so the mother rhino was able to break the baby free and return into the jungle.
Dr. Masson appeared on my Internet Radio Program, “Full Power Living,” to discuss animal emotions. I read the books of all of my guests. As I read When Elephants Weep, I was struck with a pattern I saw. Regardless of species or situation, the way animals worked with emotions was the same process!
- An animal would have an experience.
- The experience would involve an emotion.
- The animal would respond to the emotion by taking some kind of action.
When the action was complete in some way, the animals went about their business, as if nothing had happened! If you happened on the scene even two minutes after the action completed, and could see all the animals involved, you would not know there had been an emotion-laden drama occurring just two minutes earlier!
That’s when I thought about us humans and how we handle emotions like anger.
- We have an experience.
- The experience involves an emotion.
- We respond to the emotion by a) refusing to recognize it; b) suppressing/repressing the emotion; c) holding onto it until we explode; or maybe d) allowing ourselves to feel it and take action based on the emotion (rare).
- THEN, we carry that emotion with us, feeling guilty, declining to forgive, ruminating on revenge, carrying grudges, or bad-mouthing. Whatever the method, we don’t allow the emotion to move through us and out, so we can go about our business without it continuing to affect us!
Some would argue that we have superior brains, so we can carry the emotion forward. I ask, “To what end—what’s the payoff for carrying emotion from past experiences with us through time, perhaps years?”
Carrying sweet, loving feelings for years can quite possibly bring much support and pleasure. These held-onto emotions will grow.
Carrying anger, our most active emotion, is not good for us, and can bring lowered self-esteem, blocked success, mental challenges, illness, even death. Anger held inside grows, becoming resentment, rage and hate.
My conclusion is that I want to behave more like those “other animals,” turning anger loose as soon as I am finished with it, so it can move on; and I can go on my way.
Working with anger for a short while, to determine what it may be trying to teach us, is a positive action. If our intention is to learn, determining anger’s “signal” and “lesson” for us, then holding it briefly will not be detrimental. Learning life’s lesson through anger can save us from similar experiences in the future. Our intention, however, must be focused and “pure.”
Once we’ve done this, we can deal with anger the way those “other animals” do:
- Have an experience.
- Allow the emotion to arise in us, to bring its “signal” and allow us to feel it.
- Take action on the basis of the “signal.”
- (Here’s where we humans differ) Examine the experience by asking ourselves “What could this anger experience be trying to help me learn?”
- Making the necessary changes to complete the learning.
- Let the anger go: Forgive. “To Forgive” means “to let go.” Forgive all others involved, and ourselves.
- Go about our business as if the angry situation had never happened.
I’m eternally grateful to those “other animals” Dr. Masson wrote about.They have a natural wisdom that I want to emulate. Since I’ve been following their example, my emotional life has become much, much calmer. Yours can, too.