Manipulating others — or myself — with feelings that are easily touched. They’re easily touched because they are
- easily discarded,
- safe (conventional, cliché-driven) and/or
- cheap (cost me nothing personally).
A friend’s wife has many good qualities, but when she says, “Isn’t. That. Cute!!!” I admit it does make me cringe. I have seen her pout at a dead bird on the street, but she quickly recovers. More confusingly, she seems able to handle news of wartime casualties without much effort. She swoons for a moment on Facebook, then goes back to cute stuff.
I don’t think this is just a “guy thing.” I’ve watched other women grow weary of her facile, bubbly veneer: they try to move with her to a deeper layer, but soon give up.
And sentimentality is certainly not confined to women. I know a man who blubbers into his beer when songs about Mama play on the jukebox, but goes home to ignore his children, abuse his dog, and scorn his wife night after night. But he thinks he’s got a soft heart.
The Tale Wagged
Emotions that are enjoyed because they are “easy come, easy go” are fine if you know what you’re doing, but not so cool if it’s your main course every day.
Compare “sadness” to “grief”: the former doesn’t cost much. For example, let’s say I pity a homeless guy panhandling for spare change. Say I give him a dollar or two, but never donate time to work on a larger issue. If I congratulate myself for poking a few dollars through a slit in my car window, it’s rank sentimentality.
Returning to my opening anecdote: “cute” doesn’t cost anything, but real beauty can sometimes be very disturbing. Great music, great literature can rock the boat, disturbing my status quo.
The opposite of sentimentality? Here’s an example: a friend told me about his father’s death. When he finished, we were both silent for a while. He sighed, searched my face to see if I was with him, and then he summarized the experience: “It was a terrible beauty.”
He had been altered; he was not sentimental. It had cost him a lot.