On the Philosophy side of my degree, I’ve been able to study some of the arguments in favour of God’s existence. The existence of Evil is one of the main pieces of evidence that atheists use against theism, saying that an omnibenevolent God wouldn’t possibly allow Evil to exist in the world.
However, there’s an interesting argument that the theist can respond with, which essentially claims that it wouldn’t be possible for there to be any Good in the world, if there wasn’t Evil too. If there was only Good, then we wouldn’t really know that it was Good. If Good was all we experienced, then there would be no reference point for us to know what ‘Good’ was any better than. 'Good' would be relegated to 'Normal' or 'Neutral'.
Now, I realise it might seem like I’m using this post to sneak in a bit of Philosophy Finals revision…but today’s teaching makes me think back to that argument.
Whether or not it can prove God’s existence is another matter. But I think it’s true that after we've been feeling angry, when we return to our normal non-angry state of being, we notice how peaceful it feels.
Now, this 'non-angry state' is surely no different to our neutral, everyday state. But because this neutrality was disrupted by the anger, returning back to normality feels more peaceful than if we'd just stayed constantly in the neutral state. Because we're more aware of this peacefulness, we in turn feel more patient and less prone to anger.
I think what the Dalai Lama is getting at here is that although anger may be at the opposite end of the spectrum from patience, knowing what anger is makes it easier to know what patience is, because it’s just the inverse of anger. It’s like how tasting a really tough, gristly steak makes you appreciate a really nice, tender steak a whole lot more than if you’d never had the bad steak.
The more we cultivate positive emotions, such as kindness, openness, tolerance, etc., the more we can counter and eradicate hostility, mistrust, hatred, and so on. It links back to the teaching on knowing your enemy (Song 13), because in knowing the negative emotions, you can cultivate their opposites more easily.
“We could change this whole world with a piano
Add a bass, some guitar, grab a beat and away we go"
‘What Do I Know?’ is one of my favourite Ed Sheeran songs. The whole message of it is so inspiring, but he delivers it in such a casual and self-deprecating way that it completely dispels any sense of preachiness.
“Everybody's talking 'bout exponential growth
And the stock market crashing and their portfolios”
As soon as anyone tries to have business-talk with me, and starts dropping financial facts and figures left, right and centre, my mind just switches off. I admire people that can get their head around that sort of thing, but my brain just can’t handle it.
So these lines really resonate with me, because we do live in an increasingly business-centred world. And that’s not necessarily bad, it’s just the way the world is. I think the suggestion Ed is making is just to remember that there’s more to life than share prices and averaging down (did I use that right?).
“While I'll be sitting here with a song that I wrote
Singing ‘Love could change the world in a moment’
But what do I know?”
Contrasted with the business-talk of the previous lines, these lyrics sound so innocent and almost naive. But for me, it drives home the idea of countering negative emotions, because Ed moves straight from a more materialistic, Wall Street Journal perspective, to its complete antithesis.
“You know we are made up of love and hate
But both of them are balanced on a razor blade”
This sums up the message perfectly, and underlines how love and hate aren’t as far apart as people can presume. While on the one hand, this is kind of a scary thought, it’s also reassuring that for every negative emotion, a positive emotion isn’t as far away as it might seem.
“Just re-remember life is more than fittin' in your jeans
It's love and understanding positivity”
Leave it up to Ed to remind us that image isn’t everything, and that the best way to try and extinguish any negative feelings, whatever they might be about, is to cultivate love and positivity.
It's easy to say, but of course it’s a different ball game putting it into practice. However, we can take heart from the idea that a negative emotion never strays too far from its positive counterpart.