Emotional Competency

Explore the Logic of Passion

Guiding us along the path of survival

Our emotions act as beacons and compass, guiding us along the treacherous path of survival. Each of us is here only because all of our ancestors survived successfully enough to procreate. The unbroken chain of our ancestry, conception, and birth extends millions of years back in time. The odds against our existence are astronomical, yet here we are! Every one of our ancestors was successful enough to survive, procreate, and pass their genes on to us. Each emotion helped its host to adapt and survive as evolution relentlessly eliminated the unfit. Emotions have helped our ancestors successfully survive and reproduce in a treacherous world by overcoming many obstacles and dangers.

Emotions quickly and decisively integrate our sensations, perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, motives, goals, meanings, subjective experiences, and physiological states to help us survive and flourish in our complex world. Emotions restore us to a state of balance and equilibrium when unexpected or unusual events occur.

But our emotions evolved so we could survive in a dangerous world of scarcity, mistrust, and predators. They evolved more to protect us from loss than to help us explore the possibilities of abundance. As abundance, trust, and safety become possible, we need to understand the survival-based limitations of our emotions and allow ourselves to enjoy the full expression of our humanity.


The following table identifies the virtue or survival goal that each emotion guides us towards, along with the mechanism or message used to achieve that goal. The last column identifies a strength that can help to balance the emotion, cope with the emotion, or that is taught by the emotion.

Emotion Virtue / Goal Mechanism / Message Balance
Fear Safety Avoid danger or respond to it. Courage
Disgust Safety Avoid chemical toxins Caution
Surprise Safety Draw attention and respond to danger. Perspective
Hate Safety Quickly separate friend from foe. Avoid noxious things. Kindness
Anger Justice Act now to preserve justice. Humor
Pride Stature Reward for increasing stature; you have done your best Humility
Envy Stature Competitive stimulus for increasing stature Humility
Shame Stature Punishment for reduced stature; try harder to do your best Prudence
Contempt Stature Distain for squandering stature; please do your best Compassion
Gloating Stature Focuses attention on preventable stature losses Compassion
Guilt Morals Punishment for moral transgression; follow the golden rule Integrity
Love Procreation Pursue sexual interests and care for children. Self-Control
Jealousy Monogamy Punishment for promiscuity Loving
Anxiety Surveillance, Forethought Be aware of potential danger Optimism
Joy Achieve Goals Reward for making progress toward goals Perspective
Sadness Conscientiousness Punishment for failing to achieve goals Humor
Hope Aspiration, Persistence Persist, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals Critical Thinking
Relief Courage Reward for facing our fears and succeeding. Caution
Gratitude Reciprocal Altruism Appreciating altruism and encouraging reciprocity Discretion
Compassion Empathy Motivation to help others; you have followed the golden rule. Industry
Depression Convalescence Retreat, rethink, and recover. Initiative
Flow Industry, competence Continue this fascinating and engaging activity. Ambivalence


  • “We accommodate out of fear and guilt. We attack out of anger. We avoid out of fear.  Anger can blind, fear can paralyze, and guilt can weaken.” ~ William Ury
  • “The most effective way to deal with your negative emotions is not to act them out but to hear them out.” ~ William Ury.
  • “The universe itself is a battle between entropy and life—and, because it gets smarter over time, life is sure to win.” ~ Douglas RushkoffExternal Link


The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins

The Origin of Emotions, by Mark Devon

[laz] Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions, by Richard S. Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus

[Ekm] Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, by Paul Ekman

[OCC] The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins

[Gol] Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Arun Gandhi

Stress and Emotion: A New Synthesis, by Richard S. Lazarus 

The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, by William Ury

The Nature of Emotions, Plutchik, R, The American Scientist, Volume 89, Issue 4, 2001

Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, Surprise, Disgust, Contempt, Anger, Envy, Jealousy, Fright, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame, Relief, Hope, Sadness, Depression, Happiness, Pride, Love, Gratitude, Compassion, Aesthetic Experience, Joy, Distress, Happy-for, Sorry-for, Resentment, Gloating, Pride, Shame, Admiration, Reproach, Love, Hate, Hope, Fear, Satisfaction, Relief, Fears-confirmed, Disappointment, Gratification, Gratitude, Anger, Remorse, power, dominance, stature, relationships

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