Inside Out: grown-up emotions

Inside Out isn't a movie about kissing the handsome prince or beating the bad guys.  

Inside Out is a movie about what it takes to be an emotionally healthy and mature person.  In gorgeous animated form.  (It's kind of a miracle.  I'm still marveling.)

Each character in the movie has the same five basic emotions:  Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

11-year-old Riley's primary emotion is Joy.  Like I said last time, Joy has to learn the value of Sadness in order to cope with the challenges of growing up.  

Now, Riley's emotions are obvious.  But when you watched the trailer, did you notice the primary emotions of Mom and Dad?


Watch again.  What do you see?

The very nurturing, empathetic mom in the movie has Sadness as her primary emotion.  

While I was watching the movie at the theater, I didn't pay much attention to Mom's primary emotion.  I just assumed it was Joy.  This is an animated movie, after all.  It's about fun!  Of course Mom's all about Joy!  

But once I realized just how smart Pixar has been here, I started wondering if they'd really made Joy Mom's primary emotion, or if they'd been more subtle than that.

So I went back and watched the trailers again, and sure enough, Mom has Sadness in the driver's seat.  

Smart, smart Pixar.  They extrapolated the lesson Riley's Joy and Sadness were learning at age 11, and found the magic that happens when Joy and Sadness live together:

Grown-up Sadness is not a blobby, lethargic Sadness, but a comforting, caring, noticing, nurturing, energetic Empathy.

Sadness can be a powerful force for good, when we embrace it, experience it, and allow it to connect us to ourselves and to others.

It's easier to see Dad's primary emotion, right?  Dad's got red-faced Anger.  

This is interesting, too, because Dad is a nice guy.  Of course "the foot is down" at times, but he's not a jerk.  

One of the points Inside Out makes, early on, is that each emotion has an important purpose.  

Anger notices injustice and protects.

Anger can also be a powerful force for good when we understand the energy behind it, without using it as a weapon.  Anger tempered by empathy allows us to set clear boundaries, creating safety for ourselves and for others.  

Without appropriate anger, all our empathy would make us the doormat of the world.  (Anybody else been, done, and got the t-shirt on that one?)

I have to be honest.  I've found it really difficult to grapple with emotions like sadness and anger within the faith community.  

For the stuff I've got to deal with--both personally and professionally--there aren't three alliterated points, a poem, and a prayer to take care of the problems.  Sometimes that makes it really hard for me to sit in church.  

I think that the white American conservative religious culture I'm a part of has been too good at controlling everything, at the expense of our emotional and spiritual maturity.  

We spend way too much of our time, like Joy in the movie, saying, "I just want to be HAPPY!"  And then we want everybody else to be HAPPY as well.  We demand it.  We just don't know how to cope with anything else.  

This little animated movie from Pixar gets it absolutely right:  we've got to learn some deeper emotional skills, if we want to engage in anything beyond childish relationships--and that includes our relationship with God.

There is too much sorrow in the world, too much grief and pain, for any of us to be stuck in childish emotions.

We need the grown-up kind of Sadness and Joy and Anger, the kind that experiences all the reality:  the sorrow and the pain and the joy and the beauty, and still has the capacity to mobilize for good in the world

The only way we're going to get there is by engaging those emotions, and learning how to employ them  as the grown-ups they're intended to be.  I guess it's ironic that I'm pushing a kid's movie as the place to learn about that, but we've got to start someplace.  

Get thee to a movie theater, people.  Go.

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