“All sadness is a tantrum” – I’ve seen this thought on facebook, the author has several hundred thousand page likes, so a lot of people got this message recently. Welcome to my sadness tantrum, feel free to lie on the floor beside me, thrash about and howl if you need to. I’m not ‘enlightened’ enough to have stopped feeling pain, and I’m enough of a blasphemer against this position to think that sadness is a good thing.
I have my personal sadness around loss, setback, frustration and physical pain. Things that scare me make me sad. I see these as aspects of my being human and I am not ashamed of them. Empathy makes me grieve for the suffering of friends and share in their sadness. It makes me cry over the things I cannot fix or undo. I believe that sorrow teaches us compassion. Then there is the place beyond sadness. The rage and anguish caused by images of war, and fracking; the horrors we inflict on each other and on this world. I weep over those. I invite you to weep too, because our salvation may lie in the spur to action that comes from our broken and bleeding hearts. Howling is magic. Grief harnessed begets transformation. This is where powerful, positive change starts – when we can no longer bear things as they are.
I have not achieved enlightenment, I’m not expecting to any decade soon. I’m so far from that state, I haven’t a clue what it means, and whether getting there means you dispense with human emotion. I rather hope not. I think our emotions are often our saving grace as a species; grief and joy are twins that inspire and enable us. If enlightenment means losing that, I guess I’m opting out of the spiritual race. So, I know nothing about this stuff. I do however know a bit about tantrums.
“Tantrum” is the word we use to describe a perception of disproportionate emotional outbreaks – usually from children, or from people we wish to ridicule and undermine by likening them to undisciplined infants. To class something as a ‘tantrum’ is to belittle and dismiss it. If something is “just a tantrum” it lacks worth, and relevance – it can be ignored.
Small children are prone to disproportionate emotional outbreaks, from an adult perspective. I’ve raised a child, I’ve hung out with parents, this territory I do know. Your toddler knows nothing of torture, murder, war and crime. A tiny setback and a minor pain can be the worst horrors they have ever endured. The frustration of being thwarted is unbearable because it is quite literally the worst experience they have ever had and it totally challenges their sense of self and their place in the world. Ideally as a parent you have to do two things with this, and they are equally important. You have to help your child gain enough perspective to cope with life, without traumatising them about the state of the world they have joined. This is a process. It takes years. You have to do this, ideally, whilst not undermining their sense of self. That means not entirely invalidating their emotional responses, not making them feel stupid or worthless because they cried when you thought they shouldn’t. It is a bloody difficult job.
You don’t get to fast track on this one. You don’t get to be an emotionally mature adult without first being a shrieking toddler and doing whatever you do with the chaos of adolescence. There are no shortcuts, so I’m prepared to bet that if enlightenment is available, there are no shortcuts there either. I also suspect that knocking someone back doesn’t help them grow. We are where we are – however flawed that is, however far from where we think we ought to be. You have to start from where you are, but if you start out ashamed of your point of departure, that isn’t a lot of help. More the opposite.
I don’t know what enlightenment looks like, but my gut says it should not be smug and toxic, invalidating the struggles of people who are ‘less advanced’.