Alan Duff: Our emotions - read this and weep

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We all wear our hearts on our sleeves and are just as emotionally attached to the land as our neighbour.
Like every one of us, I'm a unique emotional model. Photo / iStock
Like every one of us, I'm a unique emotional model. Photo / iStock

Quite often I feel this column is less mine than it belongs to everything I read - from daily newspapers to novels, biographies, history books, magazines, and the vast video data on YouTube. Other columnists influence me, or at least give me pleasure and insight. I'm aware that whenever I am stating facts they are almost invariably taken from someone else's written piece and I am borrowing from their hard-won research.

Like every one of us, I'm a unique emotional model. We're all products of our childhoods and we each have a different emotional reaction to those experiences.

My parents were the great mis-match, of the read and the unread, European and Maori. The latter was caught in a cultural upheaval and had her own demons to battle. My father's Scottish/Irish ancestors had already been through the tumultuous, poverty-stricken times, the cultural changes, leaving him a legacy of an educated, enlightened outlook.

The marriage was intellect and objectivity versus irrational and emotional, and too often worse than that.

Out of that tumultuous home came this writer with his flaws and the odd virtue, and now his gratitude for those emotions stamped like a branding iron on him.

That long but relevant introduction is me saying that this week's column is taken in quoted part, or else inspired by, a special edition magazine of the Economist, in particular an article on emotion which resonates with the above. Here's a highlighted excerpt:

"Australasian and American men emerged as the weepiest in the world; their Nigerian, Bulgarian and Malaysian counterparts the most dry-eyed. Women in Sweden outcried those in Ghana and Nepal."

Doesn't this fascinate you? No? Well, it does me. Australasian men weepier than Nigerians? Mate, come on. Us Downunder blokes don't cry, except when we respectively win/lose the Rugby World Cup. Swedish women cry more than Ghanaian women? Are they sure? Even the venerable Economist must get it wrong sometimes, surely?

The difference between a Maori tangi and a Pakeha funeral is wide, but in many ways superficial.

Being of mixed blood and having grown up in two different, often clashing, cultures, my Pakeha side rarely wept, not at anything, not even a family member's death. They did life stoic. My Maori brethren wept at a lot of things and were far more emotionally open, at times volatile, even explosive.

The Economist article mentions a Maori chief "who cried like a child because the sailors spoilt his favourite cloak by powdering it with flour". The same guy possibly fought countless battles, killed countless people and shed not a tear for his victims. Different strokes.

"In the early 19th century, nostalgia was considered a terminal condition during the American Civil War," so this article states. This must mean I'm on my way out, sitting writing this while YouTube plays nostalgic music from the 60s resonating with perfect emotional meaning that I cannot and will not try to analyse.

The difference between a Maori tangi and a Pakeha funeral is wide, but in many ways superficial. My Pakeha mates are emotional but culturally don't show it. In private they are just as emotional. While we're at it, the myth of Maori being closer to the land than their European counterparts? Absolute nonsense. Virtually all humans have a love of the land for obvious reasons: it feeds us and nourishes our souls. Come to France to see an entire population obsessed with, literally, the soil and all it produces. Everyone is emotionally attached to the land.

As a late discoverer of the Laughing Samoans and its lead, Tofiga Fepulea'I, it's the funniest insight into Samoan thinking imaginable. His obesity is part of it. He is a reflection, I think, of his Samoan people: wear your heart on your sleeve, wipe your nose on it, your tears.

I know few Samoans. The ones I know, I adore. But they're strangers to us, really; even though we cheer and praise them when wearing the silver fern. If you want to see funny, then YouTube the Laughing Samoans and be entertained by the side-splitting Tofiga.

Assuming Tofiga is atypical, then Samoans do emotions, food, humour, interaction, perceptions, romance, child-rearing, everything wholly differently to others. Like Pakeha I've heard discussing economic/financial matters with utmost earnestness and objectivity, going over every minute monetary detail. Our fellow Asian and Indian Kiwis are different again.

A Scottish/Kiwi mate told me years ago, "Duffy. Money is serious." He was right. But it's an emotional subject too. Emotional intelligence is kind of serious, or it is when you encounter someone who lacks it. But till the day comes that banks and supermarkets accept emotions as payment, they must always come second to objectivity.

- NZ Herald

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