Discover more from Thinking Out Loud | Michael Ashcroft
Blunt not the heart | #64
3 September 2023: Shakespeare on feeling emotions, some Write of Passage workshops, and a podcast I was on
I hope you’re all fabulously well. In this edition I talk about:
what Shakespeare has to say about feeling your feelings
some upcoming Write of Passage public workshops you might be interested in, and
a podcast I was interviewed on recently
I hope you enjoy!
Blunt not the heart
I recently saw Macbeth at the Globe Theatre, here in London, and was struck by a couple of lines towards the end of the play that offer wisdom on the role of emotions.
The context is that Macduff has just been told that his pregnant wife and children have been murdered by Macbeth. He is with Malcolm, the rightful King of Scotland, who tries to comfort him.
Here’s the text — emphasis [and commentary] mine:
Let's make us medicines of our great revenge,
To cure this deadly grief.
He [Malcolm] has no children. All my pretty ones,
Did you say all? O hell-kite, all?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam [mother]
At one fell swoop?
Dispute it like a man.
I shall do so,
But I must also feel it as a man.
I cannot but remember such things were
That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on,
And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff,
They were all struck for thee — naught that I am.
Not for their own demerits, but for mine,
Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now.
Be this the whetstone of your sword. Let grief
Convert to anger. Blunt not the heart, enrage it.
Notice how neither Macduff nor Malcolm adopts a later British attitude of the ‘stiff upper lip’, the suppression of emotional expression even in the face of extreme adversity. Perhaps it’s because they’re Scottish, and the stiff upper lip comes more from the Victorian-era publicboarding school culture in England.
Nor do we see any inducement to keep calm and carry on, nor any implication that big boys don’t cry, two expressions that permeate the cultural waters I have swum in.
Instead, Malcolm immediately encourages Macduff to transmute his grief into action, in the form of revenge. Macduff agrees in principle, but insists that he must also feel his grief, which is portrayed as an inherently manly act.
It’s clearly right and proper, in Shakespeare’s mind, for Macduff to feel the full force of his emotions in the midst of catastrophe and then use its energy to guide his hand, should that be appropriate. Because of course it is.
Yet, I wonder if there are two failure modes in the modern era when it comes emotions.
On the one hand, we take ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘keep calm and carry on’ to mean something like don’t feel your emotions, just get on with it. On the other hand, there’s going around and around the feelings carousel without ever taking action or allowing the emotions to transform you and leave. The first is dissociation, the second is stuckness.
The path I’m aiming to walk lies between these two extremes, to feel emotions fully, have their energy available for action, yet develop full conscious control over the choices I make in their presence. Put another way, it’s good to feel all your anger, but it’s not necessarily good to strike someone in anger.
I recently wrote an essay for Every, Stop Running From Emotions—
And Start Being More Productive (not my choice of title!), which is currently not behind a paywall, in case you want to read more of my thoughts on this topic.
Upcoming Write of Passage workshops
Write of Passage, the online course, is awesome. I was an alumni mentor for three of the previous cohorts, I’ve hung out with David in London, and I know the team well. It’s fair to say that I would still be employed and living my former ‘default path’ life if I hadn’t taken the course and followed its advice.
I’ve even written a 4,000 article on how to get the most from Write of Passage that explores why I think it’s so great.
The WoP team are gearing up for their next cohort, and this year they’re doing something cool: they’re running three pre-cohort workshops that anyone can join. I’m sure they’ll be excellent and valuable in their own right, even if you don’t go on to take the course. Here they are:
Grow Your Audience with the The Cultural Tutor - Tuesday 6 September, 12pm ET
In this workshop, you’ll learn how to grow your audience through Unique Expression. The Cultural Tutor and David will teach you how he finds, shapes, and shares his best ideas in a way his audience loves — and how you can, too. Expect actionable advice you can use right away (and plenty about art and architecture).
How to Start Writing Online - Tuesday 12 September, 7pm ET
In this workshop, you’ll see how writing online uses what you already know to open up new doors in your life. Experience firsthand how:
Conversations can become your creative fuel
Your existing knowledge (which feels obvious) can be impactful for others
Sharing ideas can make you a magnet for life-changing opportunities.
Test Drive Write of Passage - Thursday 21 September, 2pm ET
David will teach two Write of Passage concepts meant to help unlock your writing ability:
The Archaeologist vs. Architect framework will give you two methods for uncovering your Personal Monopoly — your unique combination of skills, ideas, and experiences.
By the way, this part of the Write of Passage syllabus was informed by my YouTube video: Don't choose your niche — be prolific instead. In the last cohort, I joined this live session from Bali, didn’t expect David to call on me to explain it, and ended up talking to hundreds of people while wearing a tank top. How things change.
The POP Writing framework will give your writing that special spark. Ditch the dull stuffiness you learned in school or at work. Instead, breathe life into your writing by making it personal, observational, and playful. Learn to write only something you can write.
By the way, I’m happy to do 1:1 calls with anyone who is thinking about joining this next cohort, and wants to talk through it. Just hit reply and we’ll get something in the calendar.
I was on a podcast
I was recently interviewed on David Elikwu’s podcast The Knowledge, where we talked about a wide range of things, including:
Switching from corporate to self-employment
How freedom creates tension in work and life
Staying productive without burning out
‘Public’ in the context of ‘English public school’ actually means ‘private’. It just means anyone can be a student, regardless of background or location—as long as they have the cash.