Dealing with Unruly Emotions: Get on the Bus, Gus

I have spent far too much of my life on buses.  For most of my elementary and junior high school years, I rode the bus to school.  In my home town we had a decent public transit system that could get me out to critical places like the mall, so I would load up my quarters for Tilt and head out that direction on Saturdays.  As a missionary in Chicago, I spent an unspeakable amount of time on buses that crisscrossed the city.  I’ve even taken a few bus trips to Mexico, an experience which I really lack the ability to adequately describe.  It’s kind of like kidnapping, except you pay them to do it.

Each of these bus systems had their own way of doing things, particularly as it related to how much control the passengers have over the operation.  In Chicago, when you got close to where you wanted to stop, you pulled the cable to notify the driver, and he generally pulled over at the next stop.  The Chicago buses didn’t follow complicated routes:  They basically went up and down the same street and stopped whenever you asked them to.

The metro system in my hometown had convoluted routes that you had to learn.  If you wanted to stop, you pulled the cable, and the driver would pull over at the next designated route.  You would be in the general vicinity of where you wanted to be, but you couldn’t hop out exactly at the corner you wanted to.

The school buses were entirely different.  You got on where they told you to, and you got off at the school.  The bus stopped only at the appointed locations, and no one got on or off unless he was permitted to do so.

The trips to Mexico…different story entirely.  They stopped at places I had never heard of and didn’t recognize, in the middle of the night, and usually to pay bribes to government officials.  Those buses really don’t help my analogy at all, though, so never mind.

As I have struggled over the last couple of years to get better control over my emotions, I have found that I am very much like a bus driver, with a load full of unruly emotions traveling as passengers who are constantly pulling at the cable demanding they be let out at their pleasure.

We get into trouble when we act like Chicago bus drivers who react to each and every bell-ringing that our clamoring emotions send our direction.  Something will happen, for instance, that gets the attention of our anger.  He starts tugging at the cable, demanding that he be let loose, and we immediately pull over and let him out, snapping his teeth and foaming at the mouth.  We sometimes think that by doing so, we have gotten Mr. Anger off the bus and are better for it.  The trouble is, all of his family are still on the bus, and they will start demanding our attention at the next provocation.  As we continually pull over to let them loose on the world, our own progression is slowed or stopped, and we move forward only when our emotions allow us to.

Sometimes we take the metro bus-route approach.  We don’t pull over at the first request of our emotions to do so, but we immediately start looking for the next time we can let them out.  We might keep them on the bus at work, and then open the door to them when we get home.  We might restrain ourselves in dealing with our children, but then unleash our anger at our spouse.  We have our moments of control, but the unruly passengers are still in charge of the bus.

I think that the better approach is to handle our emotions like a school bus driver.  For years I went to and from school on Bus No. 1 with Mr. Rhinehart, our regular driver.  That bus was utter chaos inside.  It was loud, smelly, and frequently the scene of low-levels of violence.  I know that I came off of that thing bleeding more than once.  I often wondered why Mr. Rhinehard didn’t just pull over and beat us, or perhaps leave us all out in a field with wild animals and bacon in our pockets.

He never did.  We got on the bus where we were supposed to, and he delivered us safely (or safely-ish) to our appointed designation.  He arrived at school on time every day.  No matter how loud and obnoxious we got, it never seemed to get to him.  Sure, he would get on the speaker every now and then to tell us to pipe down, but he was reasonably calm when he did so.

What I am coming to believe is that a healthy control of our emotions requires us to be a patient school bus driver.   We recognize that various and often loud voices of our emotions, acknowledge them, invite them to calm down, and then arrive safely at our location with all of them on board.   We take them where we want to go rather than having them dictate that we stop each time they get out attention.  Sure, the ride will often be noisy.  That’s life.  We get angry, sad, deliriously happy, worried, anxious…all of those emotions are part of our lives that we have to tend to.  But we try to do it on conscious terms:  Recognizing them, observing them, and deciding what we want to do with them.  We sit in the front, where we can see much more clearly where we want and need to go, and we steer ourselves in that direction.  And we take our emotions safely along with us.