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The Most Powerful Emotion

by Charles C. Cole

Two old acquaintances, Jules Eaves and Wilder Crowley, successful businessmen still in their suits, eased around the fireplace, each to his favorite Balmoral Chesterfield chair. With after-dinner drinks in hand, they gazed quietly at the flames, preparing for their weekly sport of competitive discussion.

“Ready for some after-dinner Socratic debate?” asked Eaves. “The persuading argument wins. Loser supplies a case of Scotch.”

“Always ready,” Crowley lied, preoccupied but open to distraction.

“When you think about it,” Eaves said, “what is the most powerful emotion?”

“Easy,” replied Crowley. “Love: a mother will do anything to protect her child.”

“But that’s altogether different,” countered Eaves. “That’s instinct, like pulling your hand out of a fire.”

“So, by your logic,” Crowley mused, “fear is not a powerful emotion because it’s natural to be afraid of the unknown.”

“Consider emotion,” Eaves explained, “not so much as a driving force to make you do the obvious, like the urge to add salt to potatoes. What if it’s the driving force to make you do something you would never ordinarily do? Wouldn’t that be the most powerful emotion?”

“Like vengeful hatred?” ventured Crowley.

“Vengeance, for me, is more quid pro quo: you took something of mine so I take something of yours.”

“I know it’s obvious, but would you consider greed?” asked Crowley. “I can name a few men so bloated on that one sensation that, frankly, I don’t think they have room for any other.”

“For me,” said Eaves, “greed is an insatiable hunger, only for status. I think we can dismiss greed.”

“When you put it that way,” agreed Crowley.

“Ready to give up?” asked Eaves.

“So soon?” asked Crowley. “I’d say you’ve given this some thought. I hope you didn’t consult Father Williams. That would be cheating.”

“No, but I did review Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, as well as Parrot’s tree-structured emotion groupings, but only as points of reference.”

“You mean your opinion is entirely your own.”

“Exactly,” said Eaves. “I give you an acid test. Do you know that if you go home right now, you’ll find your wife moved out, along with her possessions? She fell out of love with you, sorry to say, and in love with me, rather recently though not unexpectedly, in somber retrospect.”

“Is that some sort of joke?” asked Crowley.

“Would you like to use my phone? She’s completely gone.”

Crowley jumped to his feet as if a hot ember had landed in his lap. “You’ve gone too far, Eaves! Is this one of your mad psychology experiments? Why would you even consider being a party to such deceit?”

“It wasn’t my idea, old man,” Eaves explained. “She sought me out; I was convenient. But more importantly, for the sake of argument, would you mind sharing what emotion you’re feeling right now? Out with it. I really must know.”

“If I’m to give you the sick satisfaction,” began Crowley, “then I’m feeling the foreshadowing of heartburn coupled with a vintage case of dyspepsia.”

“The cook was a trifle overambitious,” Eaves apologized. “I’ll speak to him tomorrow.”

“Allow me to finish my reaction,” said Crowley, “which you’ve apparently carefully cultivated. I would say, upon reflection, that I am filled to my receding hairline with an unfamiliar desire to be unconscionably violent.”

“Good and not good,” said Eaves, “speaking both as an amateur scientist, as well as your intended victim.” He paused to finish his drink. “Would you like me to refill your glass?”

“Why not? And bring back the bottle while you’re at it. It might make me more entertaining.”

Eaves took Crowley’s glass and stepped to the bar in the corner of the room. “You couldn’t be more entertaining,” he said.

“How reassuring,” said Crowley darkly.

Eaves poured their drinks, dropping ice cubes with a disquieting clinking. “You were in the military.”

“You know I was,” said Crowley.

“I just mean: violence is a response, whether you’re following orders or provoked by unforeseen circumstances. It’s not an emotion. If your wife’s indiscretion is the match that lights the fuse and punching me in the jaw is the explosion, what’s the fuse? Pride? Shame, perhaps? Indignation?” Eaves returned with the drinks.

“This is just an intellectual exercise for you,” said Crowley. “Very well. We’re gentlemen. Let’s return to our seats and think this through without fear of retribution for the moment.”

“Well said,” responded Eaves.

The two men sank into their chairs, Crowley with the precise angles of a recent finishing school graduate, while Eaves kicked out a small hassock and raised his feet, slouching casually. They sipped their drinks in polite silence.

Crowley smiled. He sighed. He slouched.

“You know the answer,” said Eaves, clearly impressed.

“Certainly by your definition,” said Crowley. “Without question.”

“I believe you,” said Eaves. “Your confident posture has announced my withering defeat. I concede. Tell me.”

“A driving force that makes one do something unpredictable. In the midst of a personal crisis, I give you not idealized and self-delusional hope but calm, an emotion whose power comes from its subtlety and dependability.”

Touché,” said Eaves. “You’ve bested me. Whatever emotion I was going to suggest pales in comparison.”

“And my wife, is all that true?” asked Crowley. “I think I know you too well...”

“Better than anyone,” said Eaves, “but I’m afraid your wife on the other hand hid a surprise for both of us up her taffeta sleeves. Seems, old chum, you’ve won the battle but lost the war.”

Crowley stood, back to his host, hands in his pockets. “I’ll be leaving now and not returning, old friendship notwithstanding. Eaves, I’ve been meaning to tell you for years, you use entirely too much ice. I think it’s gone to your veins.” Crowley stormed off.

Alone, Eaves reviewed the evening. “That’s it, Crowley! I know the emotion that makes one do something against one’s better judgment. Considering you would never otherwise walk out on me, it’s disappointment! I’ve won after all! Too much ice indeed.”

Copyright © 2013 by Charles C. Cole

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