Getting Emotional

Rosenwein, in looking at the role emotions play and what they tell us about cultures and societies, explored emotional expression versus emotional suppression. Ultimately, her concept of emotional communities was one I generally agreed with. I know I am more likely to show certain emotions (anger, fear) in a more comfortable or private setting than I would in the public eye. That is not to say that it doesn’t happen, but different settings do warrant different emotional displays.

What I found more interesting than Rosenwein’s theory of emotional communities was Gerd Althoff’s view on emotions. “For Althoff,” writes Rosenwein, “emotions have social functions and follow social rules.” This is interesting to me because Althoff considers emotional displays and expression as a form of communication. And I think he’s right. Consider how a conversation can be dictated by someone’s general mood; if you can tell someone is angry, sad, or delighted, it certainly affects the way you interact with them. People’s emotions, which can be observed through tone and body language and ‘the look on your face’, can tell you quite a bit. But don’t look too miserable at your girl friend’s birthday party, or too happy at your Uncle’s funeral. Although we can communicate through emotional expression, sometimes it just isn’t appropriate.

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