Surprised by Civic Joy

Yesterday watching the Inauguration I was surprised by patriotic joy. This intense response confirmed a recent psychological report I had been reading demonstrating how poorly people predict their own future emotions. (Science, 9 January 2009)

In experiments showing (once again) that humans are poor "affective forecasters," subjects who predicted that they would be upset by racist remarks and avoid such a speaker, actually didn’t respond that way in subsequent experiments.

The researchers hypothesize that humans are often surprised by an emotional response, be it indifference or arousal, because they are not always aware of their affective identifications with groups or causes.


Well that was certainly the case for me watching Obama’s presidential swearing in ceremony. I view myself as fairly immune to the allure of politics, especially detached from the rhetoric and rituals of America’s civic religion.

I had gone dutifully through the snow to my neighbors’ open house to watch the broadcast. These were liberal peace and justice types who were coming in from the cold at last. (In fact, since 2003 many of us had been standing together in peace vigils in front of the Stop and Shop).

So I expected to be cheerful but not so overwhelmed with jubilation. Hearts burned within and tears flowed freely. I felt surges of passionate love for our country and the world. America! America!

Here we were, middle aged professional suburbanite standing with hands over our hearts and singing "The Star Spangled Banner." (The moment in Casablanca when the French patriots sing The Marseilles had nothing on us.)

Today, having cooled off and come down from the mountain, that peak experience is still going to give strength for trudging if not slouching our way to Bethlehem.

But how good to know that evolution has provided an instant emotional message service to tell us who we are and ’where we’re at.’ "Surprised by Joy, Impatient as the Wind," as Wordsworth poem has it.

Sidney Callahan

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9 years 12 months ago
Hopefully on the way to Bethlehem, we don't meet any modern day King Herods who seek to kill children. Let us pray that the new president does not embrace his promised abortion agenda. Our joy can only be complete when we have a culture that embraces life from conception to natural death.
9 years 12 months ago
And I felt disgust! All day today I also felt anger and disgust as war planes constantly drone overhead - F-16's, A-10's, and who knows what else - maybe gunships with automatic canons practice targeting our houses below? Yes, here in the USA! Near a military base. I'm afraid of more of the same by the same players -Same CIA, same Generals, same ilk of politicians, same "we will win mentality", same making enemies to fight, same genocidal activities, same standing by while clinched fists destroy babies with arms we supply, same destruction, same stupidity. No, I couldn't predict I would feel this way, but the evidence is in my face, against my will. Washington dances while the world burns.
9 years 12 months ago
Sidney Callahan captures much of what I saw and experienced here at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia as over 1000 of the college community gathered to watch the ceremonies on a huge screen set up in the gym. The Inauguration always fills me with hope and pride in the United States. Having lived for three years in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship (1981-1984), I do not take for granted the incredible achievement of ''we the people'' as power is peacefully transferred to the newly elected President. There are many places on earth where that cannot be presupposed (and some would say 2000 made it worrisome here in the USA). Such elections and transfer of power did not happen in Chile for many years because of the unjust political choices made by people like Kissinger and Nixon. May our nation never repeat such injustices. Yesterday we saw once again the vision and wisdom of the nation's founders still strong and vibrant. The Constitution lives (the Constitution Center here in Philly is a national treasure). Someday we hope the unborn will be afforded the rights the rest of us presuppose. That day will necessitate a change in the Constitution, not just a change in who sits in office. May the new administration see that the blessings of prosperity and liberty reach not just from ''sea to shining sea'' but also all across the globe.


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