From the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus itself to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement to the country’s rising unemployment/wealth disparity to the lack of concern for global climate change – and everything in between and beyond – 2020 has revealed the role that Disgust plays in my life.
My family was recently discussing Pixar’s “Inside Out” and who exemplified each character emotion the best.
When the discussion got around to me, my husband and 19-year-old daughter, in unison, said Disgust.
What?! Disgust?! My response was apparently even in character.
The first time I watched the movie, I loved Joy. Who doesn’t want to be her? It’s joy, after all! Happiness, delight, well-being, success, good fortune.
I worked for a community newspaper for over 13 years and wrote an occasional column which I titled “That they might have joy.”
I so wanted to be Joy. I always have. That’s the goal in this life, right? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
But Disgust? No way! I think I’ve been ashamed of my disgust, or parts of it, for much of my life. Or what I thought it meant. But in the weeks since our family discussion, I have begun to embrace my inner Disgust.
In the beginning of the movie, Joy introduces us to the Disgust character: “She basically keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially.”
That sounds like a pretty good thing.
When her parents try to get her to eat broccoli, Disgust heroically sweeps in and knocks the green veggies away.
“I just saved our lives,” she says. “You’re welcome.”
In describing the character, Jill Koss (MS, CCLS at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth, TX) writes: “Disgust is impatient, sassy and sarcastic; but she is also honest, well-meaning, caring and protective.” (‘That’s disgusting!’ What ‘Inside Out’ teaches us about disgust, 7/16/15, checkupnewsroom.com/thats-disgusting-what-inside-out-teaches-us–aboutdisgust/).
I love that. I am impatient, sassy and sarcastic. But I’m also honest, well-meaning, caring and protective.
I care. A lot. And because I care so much, in a world that seems to be increasingly troubled, I’m disgusted a lot.
Koss continues: “Disgust in the role of acceptable social behaviors has the potential to be very important. If we teach our children there are certain values that are important, and morals to follow, they have the potential to be offended (disgusted) when behaviors opposite to their values are displayed.”
Research by University of Kent psychologists in 2016 has shown that expressing disgust can be motivated by moral concerns.
“Participants themselves were more likely to choose to express disgust when their goal was to show that their condemnation of an act was morally motivated… The findings suggest that disgust is not just an expression of an inner feeling, like nausea or contamination, but a signal that advertises a moral position.” (Disgust is way of communicating moral rather than self-interested motivation – sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161219133831.htm)
What are some of these issues that I have been “disgusted” about in 2020? There are plenty. Racism, the criminal justice system, the death penalty, LGBTQ+ rights, global climate change, poverty and disproportion of wealth, homelessness, refugees and immigrants, growing unemployment, government leaders, healthcare disparities, mental illness, gender inequality.
It’s not enough to just be disgusted, though. We need to figure out ways to use it to create change. The COVID-19 pandemic has people questioning how we get back to normal. Some have suggested, however, that instead of going back to normal we should move forward to something better. I agree. With so many issues to be disgusted about, let’s work for a better way.
In Inside Out, Disgust incites Anger to help accomplish her purpose – she fuels his anger with her words until he bursts into flames and breaks open the window to save Joy and Sadness.
Instead of avoiding or denying or being ashamed of our disgust, let’s embrace and channel it through “honest, well-meaning, caring and protective ways” in an effort to help our communities move forward to something better and ultimately to help save lives.
Then we can all sit back, sassy and sarcastically, and say, “You’re welcome.”
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