The Emotional Compass

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(essay in progress)

How to design and build a working compass for the

safe navigation of the human emotional landscape.

Humans claim, and operate on, the assumption that we are

an intelligent species. We cite our intelligence as our most

important and most distinguishing feature. But we are first
and foremost an emotional species.

Whether consciously or not our earliest recorded tales tell us
of the importance of our emotions in guiding and explaining our
actions and behaviours. These are mainly found in various ancient
Religious and Philosophical myths and texts.

Our literary traditions continue to follow similar patterns, offering
stories that reveal our relationship to our feelings with notions
of the good guys versus the bad guys. We associate our feelings
with our actions and their consequences.

Historically we have spent a great deal of time and effort in

celebrating and indulging our passions. Our stories of heroes,
of morality, family, friends and nations celebrate our emotional
capacities. And generally they tend to be a guide to what are
the most admirable and desirable emotions. They demonstrate
by example how certain behaviours lead to personal happiness
and salvation or create the greatest communal good. And there
are also many examples of negative results from negative actions.

It is only recently that we have begun to explore the nature of

human emotions in any Scientific ways. It is proving to be a very
complex four dimensional puzzle almost beyond the abilities of
our Intelligence to define and comprehend.

Perhaps the earliest systematic effort to categorise our feelings
was the Greek theatre which set apart Tragedy and Comedy as
the two distinct and definable aspects of our emotional range.

How many emotions are there?

The two apparent extremes of Comedy and Tragedy might suggest
that Greeks recognised only two emotional settings. But it is far more
complicated than that. For one thing, the terms Tragedy and Comedy
were meant to define the nature of the plot, especially as to whether
the principal characters would live or die in the end. Our happy or sad
responses do not enter into it really; it was all about the Fateful and
predictable outcomes of Life or Death.

It is we, having no understanding of ancient notions of predestiny,
who wrongly apply assumptions of any emotional distinction. In both
Tragedy and Comedy the outcomes are already predetermined by the
Fates, forces beyond human understanding which are seldom influenced
by human emotional needs and desires.

The Happyface and Sadface we see paired as the iconic symbols of
modern theatre are not really accurate representations of classic Greek
Comedy and Tragedy but they do simplify our understanding through
the use of simple imagery representing the wide range of possible
emotional subject matter that can be presented in dramatic form
as well as a promise of our probable responses.

In fact this illusion of two opposites may prove helpful.

There are many emotions which seem to have opposites. Likely, the

most obvious set of primary emotional opposites are Love and Hate.
The next set we might think of us is Hope and Fear.

These pairs are assumed to be polar opposites so let's draw a
vertical line (AB) four inches long. And let's assign Love to the top
point A and Hate to the bottom point B. There'd be a full range
of degrees between the two extremes.

Next we will draw a horizontal line (CD) also four inches long which
intersects the vertical line at the half way point. This new line
will be
the range between Fear (C) and Hope (D).

For the moment let's assume the two lines are just like the North/South
and East/West axes of a compass with four
cardinal points representing
the most extreme extents of the basic emotions. We may note that these
intersecting lines are the same graph used in Trigonometry calculations.

We have four quadrants. And I believe that all the other names we might
have for any other seemingly different emotions can be ascribed to one
(or more) of these quadrants as a logarithm determined or influenced
by the four primary extremes.

There are dozens of other words we can suggest for an assortment of
emotional feelings we experience, but upon examination we'll likely agree
that these are really variations or combinations of the two major pairs
we placed on the crosshairs of our compass.

The most obvious other extreme emotion might be envy or jealousy. Yes,
there is an argument to be made that these two terms have distinctive
meanings, but for our purposes here let's assume they are synonymous;
and examine them and others later as being hybrids or algorithms of the

four basic emotions.

LOVE and HATE and FEAR and HOPE.

But are there really four or just two that operate on a wide range.

It is sometimes said, usually by Romantics with an air of Pragmatism,
that the opposite of Love is not Hate but Indifference. And to a certain
extent this is probably true. But the same might be said of Hate, that
the opposite of Hate is also Indifference.

So if Indifference is the absence of any strong feeling one way or the other
we can place it at the center of the vertical Love/Hate line AB at the point
where it intersects with the horizontal line CD. Shall we also assume that
this central point would be neutral along the range between Fear and Hope.
This would certainly fit nicely with notions of emotional balance or any of
the meditative ideas and methods of Centering.


Much has been said and written, especially by poets, of the virtues
and pains that Love can bring. It could be called the primary emotion
because it is at the center of procreation from the meeting of lovers
to the raising of families.

From the basic family unit we extend our love to our community, our
nation, our race. And beyond that we are more likely to exclude
others for lack of familiarity. The strangeness or competitive nature
of others too often leads to a negative emotions we call hate. But
it is debated by philosophers and neurologists that both Love and Hate
are essentially the same emotion, being irrational gut reactions felt all
along a range of positive and negative feelings with prejudged values.

Closer examination of love and hate situations will also reveal that
these emotions can be instilled by ritual and assumptions long
any real interaction has occurred. We are often taught to Love or Hate
certain persons and groups before we have any real contact or experience
of the people involved. In some family situations we often see a conflict
between what we are taught to believe about family or brotherly love and
our actual experience within our families.

But the point here is that both Love and Hate are based on experience,
be it actual, ritual or historical. As such they are part of our past; they
have culturally imbedded values that become fixed and hard to modify.

Fear and hope are more flexible, being focussed upon the future. We

have expectations, dreads, anticipations of terrors or dreams and fantasies.


There is an emotional cycle that orbits the polar extremes of those opposites
we call Fear and Hope. We hope for the best but fear the worst.

Both Fear and
Hope are found in terms of looking forward. Unlike Love and Hate responses
which are feelings and opinions
based upon past experiences, Fear and Hope
lie in the unknown realms of the future tense.

We fear negative consequences of anticipated actions. Highly charged negative
and positive expectations can be generated by our internal imaginings which
direct our subsequent decisions. Or we can be caught off guard by external
actions by others or by other non-human factors in our environment. Our most
fearful expectations are of disaster, discomfort, disease, hate and war, death,
fire and famine.

And yet we hope for positive consequences to come from good; good thoughts,
intentions and good actions; from god, good-luck or love.

Both Fear and Hope can reach paralysing and even fatal extremes but usually
they burn themselves out and slowly we cycle back to the other extreme. Our
minds will rationalise the changes our bodies are making in our feelings.

Perhaps you have felt a time when the fear of being wrong just
collapsed from
over-exertion and you found yourself indulging the hope of being right or perhaps
just feeling the relief in knowing the Fear of being wrong was unjustified and
had been taking an unjustifiable toll on the psyche.

Most Fear is unwarranted but most Hope has no foundation either.
We espouse
the goods of Love, justice, fairplay, family,
friends, financial freedom and sunshine
in a warm meadow.

We try to convince ourselves that embracing these goods will
bring us more good
and we call this Hope. Just as we tend
to stockpile the negatives of hatred, rejection,
lack of confidence, memories of pain and suffering and call it Fear.

Hope and Fear are both active and present and focus on future possibilities.
Unlike with the Love/Hate spectrum there is very little of past experience that
can be relied upon to predict outcomes in unknown circumstances. Nothing we
know can prepare us for what is to come.

It could therefore be argued then that Fear and Hope have the same emotional
basis along a range of feeling from despair to blissful delusion depending on the
situation both external and internal.

So we have two just intersecting lines.

The vertical north/south line represents the emotional response that
ranges from
Love to Hate. And the horizontal west/east line represents
the range of Fear
and Hope responses.

Now all we have to do is create a way to plot certain points and
algorithmic arcs
throughout the four quadrants of our graphic display. But unfortunately not everyone
has a grasp of trigonometry or know how to utilise sines, cosines and tangents as
abstract arithmetic values. Not everyone is able to calculate reciprocal values
on a graph. We need a more user friendly, hands-on method to visualise the
relative value of mixed emotions.

Let's construct, one at a time, two squares. For both we need to locate the halfway
point along each arm of the crosshairs; this would be one inch out from the center
point and one inch from the end of any axis. For convenience we can call these points
W,X,Y and Z.

To create our first box we extend one inch lines parallel to the two
axis lines so that
these meet at right angles at a point one inch from the central lines. The completed
square will be two inches along all four of its sides, the same length as the original
cross lines but centered halfway along each arm.

Our second square box can be created by drawing line directly from W to X to Y to Z.
This square will appear as a diamond centered upon the axis and it will appear smaller
than the first square because each side crosses at a 45 degree angle between the
perpendicular axis lines. This diamond shape will be helpful when we start moving the
square around like a Oiuja pointer as we try to cover proportionately more or less of
each of its constituent components.

Let's for example give either of the squares a value or assign it a quality such as
Nostalgia one of of the other complex emotional experiences. If we think about it
Nostalgia is made up of mostly positive dimensions like Love and Hope, so if we
designate the square as Nostalgia we would move it up and to the right covering
most of the upper right hand quadrant between Love and Hope.

A more negative and violent emotional experience would cover most of
the lower
left hand quadrant between Hate and Fear.

Now let's put the circle around the whole thing.

The previous two examples reveal a difficulty with using the square, since it tends
to fill up an entire quadrant. This creates a problem when we use a circular shape
to enclose the compass. A corner of the square will extend outside the arc of the
circle. But not so if we rotate the square 45 degrees to create the diamond shape.
The diamond also refuses to allow us to move
any emotion entirely into a single
quadrant before one side of the diamond meets the radius. We must then assess
how much
of it remains in the other three areas.

This is of course the whole point of having an Emotional Compass. We can see
how much of the other qualities we need to encourage and embrace if we want
to bring any extreme emotion back to a more balanced or Centered condition.

We can all think of emotional qualities from Courage to Doubt to Embarrassment,
Shame, Guilt, Bravado and the excitement of Victory in sports or war. And we
must decide for ourselves how much of each of the Cardinal points is involved
in our own unique recipes.

Remember the distinctive emotion we mentioned earlier called Envy or Jealousy.
I suggested that these two words may not be entirely synonymous. Generally
it is held that Jealousy is felt in personal situations of love and companionship
while Envy is more likely involved with material possessions. So consider
these distinctions in the next exercise.

Imagine that the diamond/square is now coloured a suitable shade of green,
depending on whether you want to examine your Envy of another's possessions
or to judge the irrational harms being done to your health by harbouring Jealousy
over a lost love.

You can move it up or down or left or right along the two primary axis lines.
Once you are satisfied that the square is balanced and covers appropriately
sized areas of the four primary quadrants you can find the center or tipping
point and determine which directions you need to move toward to achieve
a long term balance of your feelings.

Envy probably has a lot of Hate and Fear, little Hope and no Love at all.
Jealousy is more likely to consist of its fair share of hate, a little bit of residual
but desperate hope, some lingering fear and a whole lotta love.
smiley - love

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