Give Me That Mountain

Controlling Destructive Emotions

A Change of Mind. Day two...

In reading about some of the famous crimes of passion, one incident really grabbed my attention. The two men involved, who should have been quite levelheaded, showed an incredible lack of judgment. One was an attorney and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The other was U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who was the son of a lawyer and the nephew of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I would have assumed that men of such stature had enough brain‐power to control their emotions without bloodshed, but such was not the case.

In 1859, right across the street from the White House, Daniel Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key II after discovering that Key was having an affair with Sickles' wife. Sickles pled temporary insanity (the first use of this plea) brought on by his wife's infidelity. He was acquitted of the murder charge by a jury.

not guilty

A crime of passion is: “A defendant's excuse for committing a crime due to sudden anger or heartbreak, in order to eliminate the element of premeditation. … To make this claim the defendant must have acted immediately upon the rise of passion, without the time for contemplation or allowing for ‘a cooling of the blood.’ It is sometimes called the ‘Law of Texas’ since juries in that state are supposedly lenient to cuckolded lovers who wreak their own vengeance. The benefit of eliminating premeditation is to lessen the provable homicide to manslaughter with no death penalty and limited prison terms. An emotionally charged jury may even acquit the impassioned defendant.” (Source: law.com)

A few questions come to my mind:

  • Why would someone as smart as Key go after the wife of an influential politician and risk the fallout?
  • Why would Sickles, who was a notorious womanizer himself, risk the consequences of murdering another womanizer?
  • Why would a jury acquit Sickles on a temporary insanity plea, when he had the presence of mind to walk five blocks from the murder scene and turn himself in to authorities?

What makes the story even more interesting is that Sickles, after his acquittal from a crime of passion, went on to become a Major General in the Union Army, the U.S. Minister to Spain, and the Sheriff of New York City. Why would the public put such trust in a man who had so little control over his emotions?

The answer is found in how we relate to our emotions.

The idea that “hot blood” could be a defense in a murder case is very telling of the importance of “feelings” in our culture. That someone could be excused from committing any crime simply because he/she “felt like doing it” tells us just how out of control we are regarding our “feelings.” But such a defense has been successful for many other people since Sickles' time.

Obviously, crimes can be committed under the influence of emotions in a similar way to crimes committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Destructive emotions impair sound judgment in the same way that drugs and alcohol impair sound judgment.

Maybe it would be a good idea for those of us who struggle with destructive emotions to value sobriety in the same way as those who struggle with addictions.

Five different Greek words are translated into the English word “sober,” used in twelve instances in the KJV translation of the New Testament. Two of these Greek words have at least one meaning relating to controlling emotions. Two of these Greek words have at least one meaning relating to temperance. And two have meanings relating to both temperance and emotions.

The most familiar use of the word “sober” is found in 1 Peter 5:8:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NKJV)

“Sober” in this instance means to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect. We are warned that being under the influence of alcohol, strong emotion, or anything else that clouds our thinking makes us vulnerable to the devil. The devil is looking for an easy mark, and the person under the influence of emotions is just as vulnerable to the devil's appetite as the person under the influence of alcohol.

For example: Most of us want to be at the top of our mental game when we are negotiating with other people—whether a family member or an IRS agent. I can't imagine anyone (although I'm sure a few exist) who would want to enter into negotiations with an IRS agent while being high on some chemical substance. It doesn't seem like the best plan to get the best deal. Would it not be the same kind of foolishness to enter into any negotiations when emotions were running at high volume? Would we not be making ourselves a target for a bad outcome?

It's just common sense to avoid making important decisions while mentally impaired by drugs or alcohol. But the dangers of making important decisions while mentally impaired by emotions are not so apparent.

We are in desperate need of a change of mind regarding our emotions. Much of what we suffer from could be eliminated if we'd spend more time “thinking our way through” instead of “feeling our way through.”

Have a good day,
Mike

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