From Fr. Longnecker:
Have you ever had to deal with a female work colleague or family member who, just as the argument got interesting, turned on the tears? Immediately they win. It’s a not-too-subtle form of emotional blackmail. The tears shift the conversation away from reasoning and evidence and you have to stop and feel guilty and compassionate and find the Kleenex and ask if they’re okay and be caring. It’s a neat form of bullying. Most often it is not conscious or intentional, but it still works for all that.
Lest we lambast the ladies too much, the guys have their own emotional blackmail tricks. We use rage. If we don’t actually get mad we simmer. We use the silent threat of rage. We use stonewalling, isolation and fear. We block them out and keep them guessing and worrying that we might be “mad at them” or that we “don’t like them anymore”.
The problem with these games we play is that in both cases we are using the jackhammer of sentimentality. We’re using emotions to manipulate rather than reason to convince. We’re using emotions to control rather than compassion to serve.
In a relativistic age, in which people have neither the skills or time to speak reasonably, sentimentality is used more and more within the political and religious debates. I happened across a comment on the Chick-Fil-A demonstration yesterday–written by someone who I guess is a Christian who is compassionate towards homosexual people. It read something like this:
I am so very sad to see the throngs of people lining up at Chick-Fil-As around the country. The pain in my heart radiates to every fiber of my being. I am heartbroken to see so many “Christians” enjoying the pain they are inflicting on their neighbors. It is a travesty of the faith we share. Every smug sip you take from that lemonade tells the world that your version of following Christ includes inflicting pain on your neighbor.
This is the dictatorship of sentimentality in full swing.
As soon as the writer says, “I’m so very sad…I am heartbroken” we’re supposed to reach for the Kleenex and put our arm around her and ask if she’s okay. Have you noticed how the word “sad” is usually used as a mask for “I’m really pissed off!”? It’s a self-righteous ploy to blackmail you into feeling first sympathetic and then guilty that you have inflicted such pain on this poor soul.
This sentimental “sadness” is used all the time as a smokescreen for anger. You can tell because as soon as you’re thrown off kilter by the sentimentalism, the gloves come off and the true rage that was beneath the surface kicks in. See how the writer shifts from feeling “sad and heartbroken” to name calling and an ad hominem attack? The other people are “smug torturers who enjoy inflicting pain on their neighbor as they sip their lemonade.”
This passive/aggressive tactic of the sentimentalists is classic. They use it all the time. First it’s “I’m the victim. I’m persecuted. You have to feel sorry for me. You have to support me.” then if you don’t jump to and give them what they want the tack shifts and its “You wait and see, you hate filled bigot! We’ll get you! We’ll bring you down! You have no rights here!–and that’s mild. Usually the ignorant rage is spitting with blasphemies, profanities and filth.
This is the Dictatorship of Sentimentalism. It is used by the propaganda masters all the time. It is used by ordinary people all the time, and like all Dictatorships, what is most evil about it is that it is unpredictable. You can never tell if the attack will be one of sweet victimhood or irrational rage. Like all true evil, there is something chaotic and absurd about it–there is something dark and menacing–like a mercurial and cunning villain, the Dictator of Sentimentalism will be sweetness and light one moment and murderous rage the next.
The Christian Way is to rise above it all with honesty, clarity, compassion and the Light of Truth. We should be compassionate and understanding to all. We must weep with those who are truly bereaved and grieved. We expect persecution but never whine or complain about it. When justice demands anger, we must be angry yet not sin. We must speak clearly and truly to all, having open minds and open hearts–being willing to listen and love–but also not allowing ourselves to be dominated and controlled by the tyrant of sentimentalism.
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