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THE DANGERS OF SENTIMENTALITY






From: Common Sense How To Exercise It

The Shogun says: "There are sentimentalities of many kinds, some present
less dangers than others, but from every point of view they are
prejudicial to the acquisition and exercise of common sense. To cultivate
sentiment over which the Will has no control is always to be regretted.

"Sentimentality is multiform.

"It presents itself, at times, under the aspect of an obscure appeal to
sensuality and brings with it a passing desire of the heart and of the
senses, which produces an artificial appreciation of the emotion felt.

"In this first case sentimentality is an unconscious manifestation of
egotism, because, outside of that which provokes this outward
manifestation, everything is alienated and becomes indistinct.

"The incidents of existence lose their true proportion, since everything
becomes relative to the object because of our preoccupation.

"The impulse reigns supreme there when sentimentality establishes itself,
and the desire of judgment, if it makes itself apparent, is quickly
shunned, to the profit of illusory reasons, in which pure reason does not
intervene.

"This sentimentality amalgamating the springs of egotism bereaves the
soul's longing of all its greatness.

"The anxiety to attribute all our impressions to emotion is only a way of
intensifying it for our personal satisfaction, at the expense of a
sentiment far deeper and more serious, which never blossoms under the
shadow of egotism and of frivolous sentimentality.

"Never will common sense have the chance to manifest itself in those who
permit such ephemeral and enfeebling impressions to implant themselves in
their souls.

"However they must be pitied because their artificial emotion often
results in a sorrow which is not lessened by repetition, but whose
manifestation is none the less prejudicial to the peace of their being.

"All those who do not harmonize common sense and the emotions of the
heart become passive to the investiture of a sentimentality which does
not wait to know if the object be worthy of them before it exists in
consciousness.

"From this state of mind arise disillusions and their recurrence entails
a defect in the conception.

"Men who are often deceived in allowing themselves to feel a sorrow which
is only based on the longings of sentimentality become pessimists quickly
and deny the existence of deep and enduring affection judged from its
superior expression.

"This superior expression of sentiment is freed from all personality and
such judgment which differentiates it from other sentiments.

"If we wished to appeal to common sense we should acknowledge, too often,
that in the search for expansion we have only recognized the opportunity
to satisfy the inclination which urges us to seek for pleasure.

"Sentiment reasons, and is capable of devotion. Sentimentality excludes
reflective thought and ignores generosity.

"We are capable of sacrificing ourselves for sentiment.

"Sentimentality exacts the sacrifice of others.

"Therefore, profiting by the principles already developed, he who
cultivates common sense will never fail to reason in the following
manner:

"Opening the symbolic fan, he will encounter, after perfection, the
memory which will suggest to him the recollections of personal and
strange experiences and he will record this fact: abegation is rarely
encountered.

"The inclination of our thoughts will suggest to us the difficulties
there are in searching for it.

"Deduction will acquaint us with the temerity of this exaction, and
precaution will attract our thoughts to the possibility of suffering
which could proceed from disillusion.

"Following this, reasoning and judgment will intervene in order to hasten
the conclusion formulated by common sense.

"It follows then that, abnegation being so rare, common sense indicates
to me that it would be imprudent for me to allow my happiness to rest
upon the existence of a thing so exceptional.

"For this reason this sentimental defect will find common sense armed
against this eventuality.

"There is another form or sentimentality not less common.

"It is that which extends itself to all the circumstances of life and
transforms true pity into a false sensibility, the exaggeration of which
deteriorates the true value of things.

"Those who give publicity to this form of sentiment are agitated (or
imagine themselves to be agitated) as profoundly on the most futile of
pretexts as for the most important cause.

"They do not think to ask themselves if their ardor is merited; also
every such experience, taking out of them something of their inner
selves, leaves them enfeebled and stranded.

"Every excursion into the domain of sentimentality is particularly
dangerous, for tourists always fail to carry with them the necessary
coinage which one calls common sense."

After having put ourselves on guard against the surprizes of mental
exaggeration, Yoritomo warns us of a kind of high respectable
sentimentality which we possess, that is none the less censurable
because under an exterior of the purest tenderness it conceals a
profound egotism.

It concerns paternal love from which reasoning and common sense
are excluded.

"Nothing" said he, "seems more noble than the love of parents for their
children, and no sentiment is more august when it is comprehended in all
its grandeur.

"But how many people are apt to distinguish it from an egotistical
sentimentality.

"I have seen some mothers oppose the departure of their sons, preferring
to oblige them to lead an obscure existence near to them, rather than
impose upon themselves the sorrow of a separation.

"These women do not fail to condemn the action of others, who, filled
with a sublime abnegation, allow their children to depart, hiding from
them the tears which they shed, because they have the conviction of
seeing them depart for the fortune and the happiness which they feel
themselves unable to offer them.

"Which of these are worthy of admiration? Those who condemn their
children to a life of mediocrity in order to obey an egotistical
sentimentality, or those who, with despair in their hearts, renounce the
joy of their presence, and think only of their own grief in order to
build upon it the happiness of their dear ones.

"The common sense of this latter class inspiring in them this magnificent
sentiment, and forcing them to set aside a sentimentality which is, in
reality, only the caricature of sentiment, has permitted them to escape
that special kind of egotism, which could be defined thus: The
translation of a desire for personal contentment.

"Ought we then to blame others so strongly?

"It is necessary, above all, to teach them to reason about the ardor of
their emotions, and only to follow them when they find that they are
cleansed from all aspiration which is not a pledge of devotion."

Now the Shogun speaks to us with that subtlety of analysis which is
characteristic and refers to a kind of sentimentality the most frequent
and the least excusable.

"There are," he tells us, "a number of people who, without knowing that
they offend common sense in a most indefensible manner, invoke
sentimentality in order to dispense with exercising the most vulgar pity,
to the profit of their neighbor.

"A prince," he continues, "possest a large? tract of land which he had
put under grain.

"For the harvest, a large number of peasants and laborers were employed
and each one lived on the products of his labor.

"But a prolonged drought threatened the crop; so the prince's overseer
dismissed most of the laborers, who failed to find employment in the
parched country.

"Soon hunger threatened the inmates of the miserable dwellings, and
sickness, its inseparable companion, did not fail to follow.

"Facing the conditions the prince left, and had it not been for two
or three wealthy and charitable people the laborers would have
starved to death.

"This pitiful condition was soon changed, abundance replaced famine, and
the master returned to live in his domain.

"But amazement followed when he addrest his people as follows: Here I am,
back among you, and I hope to remain here a long time; if I left you, it
was because I have so great an affection for all my servants and because
even the bare thought of seeing them suffer caused me unbearable sorrow.

"I am not among those who are sufficiently hard-hearted to be able to
take care of sick and suffering people and to be a witness of their
martyrdom. My pity is too keen to permit of my beholding this spectacle;
this is why I had to leave to others, less sensitive, the burden of care
which my too tender heart was unable to lavish on you."

And that which is more terrible is that this man believed what he said.

He did not understand the monstrous rent which he made in the robe of
common sense, by declaring that he had committed the vilest act of
cruelty due to excessive sensitiveness since it represented a murderous
act of omission.

Examples of this form of sentimentality are more numerous than we think.

There exist people who cover their dogs with caresses, gorging them with
dainties, and will take good care not to succor the needy.

Others faint away at sight of an accident and never think of giving aid
to the wounded.

One may observe that for people exercising sentimentality at the expense
of common sense, the greatest catastrophe in intensity, if it be far away
from us, diminishes, while the merest incident, a little out of the
ordinary, affects them in a most immoderate manner if it be produced in
the circle of their acquaintances.

It is needless to add that, if it touches them directly, it becomes an
unparalleled calamity; it seems that the rest of the world must be
troubled by it.

This propensity toward pitying oneself unreasonably about little things
which relate to one directly and this exaggerated development of a
sterile sentimentality are almost always artificial, and the instinct of
self-preservation very often aids in their extermination.

"Among my old disciples," pursues the Shogun, "I had a friend whose son
was afflicted by this kind of sentimentality, the sight of blood made him
faint and he was incapable of aiding any one whomsoever; that which he
called his good heart, and which was only a form of egotistical
sentimentality, prevented him from looking at the suffering of others.

"One day, a terrible earthquake destroyed his palace; he escaped, making
his way through the ruins and roughly pushing aside the wounded who told
about it afterward.

"I saw him some days after; instead of reproaching him severely for his
conduct, I endeavored to make him see how false was his conception of
pity, since, not only had he not fainted at the sight of those who,
half-dead, were groaning, but he had found in the egotistical sentiment
of self-preservation the strength to struggle against those who clung to
him, beseeching him for help.

"I demonstrated to him the evident contradiction of his instinctive
cruelty to the sentimentality that it pleased him to make public.

"I made an appeal to common sense, in order to prove to him the attitude
which he had, until then, assumed, and I had the joy of seeing myself
understood.

"My arguments appealed to his mentality, and always afterward, when he
had the opportunity to bring puerile sentimentality and common sense face
to face, he forced himself to appeal to that quality, which in revealing
to him the artifice of the sentiment which animated him, cured him of
false sensibility, which he had displayed up to that time."

Sentimentality is in reality only a conception of egotism, under the
different forms which it adopts.

Yoritomo proves it to us again, in speaking of the weakness of certain
teachers, who, under the pretext of avoiding trouble, allow their
children to follow their defective inclinations.

"It is by an instinctive hatred of effort that parents forbid themselves
to make their children cry when reprimanding them," said he.

"If the parents wish to be sincere to themselves, they will perceive that
the sorrow in seeing their children's tears flow, plays a very small part
in their preconceived idea of indulgence.

"It is in order to economize their own nervous energy or to avoid
cleverly the trouble of continued teaching, that they hesitate to provoke
these imaginary miseries, the manifestation of which is caused by the
great weakness of the teachers.

"Common sense, nevertheless, ought to make them understand that it is
preferable to allow the little ones to shed a few tears, which are
quickly dried, rather than to tolerate a deplorable propensity for these
habits which, later in life, will cause them real anxiety."

And the philosopher concludes:

"A very little reasoning could suffice to convince one of the dangers of
sentimentality, if the persons who devote themselves entirely to it
consented to reflect, by frankly agreeing to the true cause which
produces it.

"They would discover in this false pity the desire not to disturb their
own tranquility.

"They would also perceive that, in order to spare themselves a few
unpleasant moments in the present they are preparing for themselves great
sorrow for the future.

"In parental affection, as in friendship or in the emotions of
love, sentimentality is none other than an exaggerated amplification
of the ego.

"If it be true that all our acts, even those most worthy of approbation,
can react in our personality, at least it is necessary that we should be
logical and that, in order to create for ourselves a partial happiness or
to avoid a temporary annoyance, we should not prepare for ourselves an
existence, outlined by deception and fruitless regrets.

"Sentimentality and its derivatives, puerile pity and false
sensitiveness, can create illusion for those who do not practise the art
of reasoning, but the friends of common sense do not hesitate to condemn
them for it.

"In spite of the glitter in which it parades itself, sentimentality will
never be anything but the dross of true sentiment."





Next: THE UTILITY OF COMMON SENSE IN DAILY LIFE

Previous: COMMON SENSE AND IMPULSE



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