We took a field trip during the EE2 graduate workshop in Cape May to see the movie Inside Out. Our theme for the day was Emotions. We had explored for ourselves the ways we felt and saw emotions, sharing our feelings and thoughts about anger, sadness, fear, joy and other emotions in dyads and small groups. As always, people gave and received feedback and looked more deeply at how, for them, anger may perhaps, cover up and conceal sadness or, vice versa, that sadness may cover an unacknowledged anger. Or that we may fear our own anger or sadness or that of others. Each of us looked at our own patterns and became more aware of choices we have about our feelings and emotions.
The movie prompted more reflection. For me, the most important question (among many) that the movie posed concerned the value of sadness. As most of you know by now, the movie personifies the emotions in the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl, as she experiences a move from Minnesota, where she grew up, to San Francisco, where her father has a new job. The challenges to her feelings in entering a new school, meeting new classmates, missing old friends and dealing with parental stress are vividly portrayed as threatening the structures of her previously stable world.
The character of Sadness seems to be dreary and pessimistic, dwelling on losses and negative experiences that Joy would prefer to downplay or ignore. Throughout their rather harrowing (and amusing) adventures, Joy learns to appreciate the value of Sadness, who emerges as something of the hero.
I won’t spoil the movie any more than I have already. What I find interesting is the way this realization of the value of sadness is important to our development into responsible adults. Once I say this, I see echoes in the EE workshop that support us in valuing our sadness. We practice sitting with our feelings of loss or failure without trying to escape or deny and find that there is a way through. And the place we get to is richer, more connected, more grounded in self-care and love, and more available to connection with others than we could possibly be without touching our sadness and the sadness of others. It is part of what we mean when we value being “real.”
Real includes sadness and we can’t be real without it.