Sentimentality is a simple, obvious, unashamed, direct and unembarrassed expression of basic emotions. It is often viewed by ‘sophisticated’, middle class, educated, rational, stiff upper lip, British people especially, as fake or demonstrative, but perhaps it is just honest, real, uncensored by the rational, conscious mind, in fact more real and less ostentatious than much of our intellectual cleverness. It is innocent and pure like the feelings of a child. We are supposed to grow out of it, and not express those feelings, especially in public, and we find the songs or writings ‘slushy’, ‘sickly’ or embarrassing – the product of an immature, unsophisticated, uneducated mind and aimed at the masses with the same temperament – i.e. uneducated, ‘simple souls’, emotional rather than rational, intelligent people.
And yet, these are often the emotions that ignite the greatest force for good in human beings – compassion, empathy, generosity and charity. Perhaps this is why they are tolerated, often expressed and probably deliberately encouraged in more emotionally driven, Christian (especially American style Christian) communities. The rational, intellectual mind, which frowns on all forms of sentimentality is in danger of becoming cold, unfeeling, self-centred and cynical, perfectly suited to running multi-national companies or political parties perhaps!
However, this distaste for sentimentality runs deeper and wider in our society than the intellectual, sceptical elite. It is also an important element of youth culture, for example in popular and especially alternative music. Perhaps this is simply because the youth are reacting against their former childhood mentality as they carve out their new identities, however this is not so with anger. While sentimentality is often seen as immature or child-like, music with anger at its core is cool. This could also be described as honest, pure, uncensored by the conscious mind, innocent and even child-like, although it is usually a more directed anger, masked by anti-establishment rationality or teenage, sexual frustration – all perfectly acceptable and cool. At its best, it is a call to action to change things for the better using strength in numbers, subversive sabotage, mass protests, movements, occupations etc., but at its worst, it leads to self-obsessed, nihilistic depression and violence.
Anger is as real or fake and positive or negative as sweet sentimentality and it always works most powerfully when guided and tempered by love and compassion. So I say, allow a little sentimentality into your life. You might find your heart opens a little and your anger is a more constructive and powerful force as a result. You may feel more rounded, more generous, more contented and even more mature, because maturity is not denying all things child-like, but rather experiencing our true nature as a child, yet filtered through the knowledge, wisdom and life experience of a still curious and questioning adult.
I recommend the most sentimental song I can think of – Tammy Wynette singing ‘No Charge’. See if you can listen to that song with an open mind and heart, putting yourself right there in the story and not be moved by it!