It was November 1994. Fourteen-year-old Matilda, practically for a joke, was playing the role of burglar at home with her friend Stacy.
Her father, coming home late, who assumed Matilda was at a friend’s house thought a real burglar may have broken in. He heard noises as he entered his house.
For the safety of his wife (also with him) as well as his own, he pulled out his .357 caliber pistol and went into Matilda’s bedroom to investigate.
As he opened the closet, Matilda shouted, “Boo!”.
That scared the father (Stacy, who was tucked with Matilda also inside the closet, just beside her, later noted.)
Unwittingly, without registering that the “burglar” was his own daughter, Matilda’s father released the trigger of his pistol, and shot his daughter in the neck.
Matilda died 12 hours later. Expressing the words, “I love you, Daddy.” as she passed.
A supposed-to-be prank turned into an unintentional murder.
As with all stories, I think this unfortunate one comes with a strong moral.
(No it isn’t: “You should not play such kinds of jokes, kids.”)
It rather abruptly sends out a message for a need: “To understand the power of emotions in guiding actions.”
The feeling we are all presumably very familiar with—fear—played a giant impact in the life of an innocent teenager. The father, being put into shock with the “Boo!”, could not even register his daughter’s voice being the one behind that cry. It was an automatic, completely unintentional response, else the father would never have shot that bullet. The unintentional tragedy that took place must be recognized as an act out of fear. Fear has a dark side. A very dark side.
This is what happens when you’re under control of fear…
When you feel fear, a part of the brain called the amygdala lights up. The amygdala is like the emotional brain. It makes you feel fear. It then signals to parts of the body to act. When the situation is strong, the prefrontal cortex (your rational thinking brain) shuts off. That means when you feel fear (which is real enough) through your amygdala (or emotions), then you just can’t think straight. This is what happened during our “Father shoots daughter” story. The night was intense. The father assumed that a burglar broke in. And fear took over his actions. And the rest is just history.
The important part is to understand emotions. And the guiding role they play in our behavior.
Be not enslaved by your emotions, rather show them who the real master is.
Emotions are created in a human being the moment one turns up into this world. Or probably even the instant when the fetus brain has completely been formed in the womb. Though on the other hand, logic is gained through the years of living. We can perhaps now more easily see how much, just how much emotions affect our every thought, motive, and behavior.
But when we fall under the trap of emotions, the “Amygdala Hijack“, as psychologist Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) calls it, then we are letting emotions control us.
The goal is to control them. Be their masters and not the other way around, which really doesn’t make any sense (but is how things are with most feeling humans).
“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Yes, that’s the picture we want. Dominate emotions. They are present in you, but do not need to define you.