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Emotions vs. Stoicism
Despite what Captain Emotion and the Emotioneers would have you believe, being emotional and caring is not in and of itself a good thing. In fact, the more emotional and less self controlled a character, the more likely they are to fall to The Dark Side. Conversely, the more stoic, composed, and self-denying a character the more likely they are to be good and in line with The Force.

The reasoning boils down to this: Emotions are raw, powerful, and uncontrollable. A character who lets their heart or libido lead them is not rational and thus prone to temptation. Temptation of course takes many forms, and it is a slippery slope from there to full on villainy. On the other hand, heroes who exhibit self control are like a Knight in Shining Armor, able to resist temptation and Smite Evil. It is worth noting that while evil can be refined, it is rarely ascetic.

However, there is a downside to extreme Stoicism: a lack of drive and at times a worrying Lack of Empathy. A completely composed Stoic runs the risk of not letting any human considerations weigh on their judgement. Essentially, without a bit of emotion to anchor them, the character may well float off into unreachable heights.

This is true not just for characters, but as a theme in setting. It does not need to be a World Half Empty, or even have a world with a Balance Between Good and Evil, just one where it is more likely that Love leads to Evil rather than Redemption.

The Trope Maker is the Hellenistic Greeks' philosophy of Stoicism, although they did not encourage self-denial so much as but abolishing the source of desire entirely, something that is also the goal of Buddhism - the quintessential Stoic did not at all lack emotions, much to the opposite, but rather endeavored not to be driven by their emotions (feel sadness but not grief, feel pleasure but not become addicted to it, etc). It also loosely correlates with the Bible's teachings of controlling the "flesh", which usually involves controlling ones' emotions and urges.

A Red Oni, Blue Oni pairing can invoke this. Compare Romanticism Versus Enlightenment— Romanticism would encourage emotions, Enlightenment would encourage stoicism. Contrast Straw Vulcan and Strawman Emotional.

Examples

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     Anime  

  • Rei and Asuka of Neon Genesis Evangelion both struggle with this problem, albeit from different ends. On the one hand Rei's upbringing left her unable to articulate her emotions properly, on the other, Asuka deliberately tries to hold her emotions in check lest they overwhelm her.
    • To a lesser extent, Misato and Dr. Akagi go through this, which slowly drives them apart throughout the series. Akagi is almost entirely reliant on the Magi computers (and Commander Ikari) to make her choices for her, which always pick the most logical approach, and doesn't lose her head when things go awry. Misato has been known to send EVAs out on nothing more then "intuition" and is very concerned with them when things go wrong in battle, especially when it comes to Shinji. Eventually it comes south for both as Misato has to start making hard choices that could mean putting her job above her personal feelings and Akagi has an emotional breakdown when she finds Commander Ikari doesn't really love her.
  • Lahhri (Stoicism) and Mylanda (Emotions) from Battle Athletes.
  • Saber of Fate/stay night leans more towards Stoic, but her dealings with Shirou tend to throw her a little out of whack.
    • Archer plays it straighter, with a dose of snark. His response to being asked to battle Berserker so the others can flee? "Just to be clear. It's okay if I kill him, right?"
  • Played out in Star Driver with Takuto and Sugata (Who are also a color-coded Red Oni, Blue Oni pair).
  • Tiger & Bunny has Kotetsu on the emotional end and Barnaby on the stoic end. It turns out, however, that Barnaby is actually very emotionally volatile underneath the thin veneer of stoic reason.
  • G Gundam has Domon Kasshu, who hits both sides of this trope. Normally very Hot-Blooded, he manages to activate his Super Mode out of sheer rage and becomes The Berserker, resulting in him unintentionally donating energy to the Devil Gundam. Schwarz Bruder then trains him in the art of Meikyo Shisuinote , which activates his True Super Mode and lets him get past his anger. He's still Hot-Blooded, he's just not a total rageaholic anymore.
  • Ai no Kusabi displays this theme with the social structure of Tanagura, but mainly the dynamic between Iason and Riki. Iason is the top ranking Blondy, that starts out as stoic, calm and rarely ever expresses emotion much like all of the Elites. Riki is the dark haired, bottom ranking, gangster that is defiant, wild and revered for it amongst other people from the slums. Somehow, they are attracted to each other. As the story progresses, Riki becomes more subdued but reluctant to accept this change, while Iason becomes more emotive yet accepts how he's Not So Stoic anymore and it's consequences.
  • In Undertaker Riddle, The undertakers are stoic and cold towards almost everyone, since they have lived so much with a job that makes them deal with dead people and evil spirits; they consider emotions as a sin since they can make you take a reckless and foolish move. Hayato, as Faust's succesor and future king must learn to balance this two things in his life to avoid becoming a cold automaton or an overemotional fool.

     Comic Books  

  • The idea behind the emotional spectrum of Green Lantern, where Green, as the centre of the spectrum, is the balance and thus control of the emotions the other colours represent. The Guardians of the Universe believe exhibiting emotions to be a sign of weakness, and lack of self-control, although with the amount of times their self-importance as the ultimate stoics has come back to bite them, many Lanterns (and readers) can and do argue the point.

     Film  

  • Equilibrium comes down on the side of emotions. In the dystopia, emotions are demonized and people are made to take medications not to feel them.
  • A certain analysis on most of Christopher Nolan films is that they seem to give subtle messages about how goals are hampered by emotions when stoicism could have fulfilled the goals without much conflict.

     Literature  

  • The Star Wars novels carry both sides of this debate. The Jedi order as it came to be in the prequel trilogy had boiled down the light side philosophy of self-denial and detachment into the following mantra.
    "There is no emotion; there is peace."
    "There is no ignorance; there is knowledge."
    "There is no passion; there is serenity."
    "There is no death; there is the Force."
    • Sith on the other hand, had this (not at first glance evil) counterpart mantra that exalted emotions.
      "Peace is a lie,"
      "There is only passion."
      "Through passion I gain strength,"
      "Through strength I gain power."
      "Through power I gain victory,"
      "Through victory my chains are broken."
      "The Force shall set me free."
    • It should be noted that the Emotions vs. Stoicism theme is only applied to Force-users, presumably due to the extremely addictive nature of The Dark Side. For the non-Force-sensitive masses, it's not considered an issue.
    • It is also somewhat ironic that the Jedi practice self-restraint in service to the ideal of a free republic that practically embodies disorganization, whereas the Sith practice passion in pursuit of a highly ordered galaxy which they control.
    • Wait, which side were the good guys again? The Empire is powered by faceless figures and cold machinery (appealing to logic), whereas the Rebel Alliance is made up of expressive, pretty humans and cute teddy bears (appealing to emotions).
    • The original Jedi Code, from before the Order had its final schism and permanently split, shows a bit of both sides (and arguably is closer to the Jedi ideal than the later Code):
      "Emotion, yet peace;"
      "Ignorance, yet knowledge;"
      "Passion, yet serenity;"
      "Death, yet the Force."
    • Subverted when the Jedi's rigid adherence to the Code—namely their ban on love—contributes to Anakin's fall to the Dark Side. In fact, when one compares the decidedly saner, more realistic New Jedi Order that Luke Skywalker founded, it's tempting to say that being damn near wiped out was a necessary lesson for the Jedi.
      • Word of Lucas says that the Jedi aren't against "love", or even sex. (They actively encourage the former, in fact.) They're merely against institutionalized marriage and courtship, which they see as a form of materialism and possession.
      • Sounds like Lucas trying to do a cover-up, given how much that statement conflicts with what the Jedi Council actually decide in the movies.
      • Forgetting, of course, that in many ancient cultures, marriage was at least religiously blood covenant between the man and the woman. Politics and economics ultimately subverted it time and again, but that would be the fault of the "dark side" of human nature, not marriage itself.
  • Frank Herbert's Dune weighed in for self control with The litany against fear.
    • God Emperor Leto later attempted to use "passion" as a way to wind up humanity; by forcing them into a peace they couldn't control, they'd get sick of it and rebound a thousand times harder. Essentially treating emotional reactions as a spring he could wind up.
  • Inverted in the Harry Potter series, where Harry is consistently brash and emotional while Voldemort seems generally more cold and logical rational. It is said outright at one point that Harry's emotions towards Voldemort are what prevent him from going to the Dark Side. At the same time, however, Voldemort is generally considered the more powerful between the two and it is his moments of high emotion that inevitably screw him over.
    • Harry has the one emotion that Voldemort does not: love. He has the capacity to care for others and this is what prevents him from going to the Dark Side. Love verus evil is a major theme. In fact, Harry's sacrifice in the final book is the climax. However, Harry is not irrational in the least. He's emotional, he's rational, he's human, even if he's a bit angsty at some points, but that's not a stretch considering how many people die due to Voldemort. Harry vs. Voldemort is not emotions vs. stoicism, but love vs. evil. Besides, Voldemort is prone to fits of rage and only appears calm. He's more like a volcano about to erupt. With hate.
    • Also worth noting: aside from Voldemort, the main driver of the plot is Albus Dumbledore, who rarely exhibits anything but logic (and who blames his few mistakes on getting too emotional). The other plot driver, of course, is Snape, whose one long-buried emotional attachment is solely responsible for his Heel-Face Turn. So ... the general theme seems to be that love is good, but only if it's not Dumbledore's?
      • It's obsessive love that is explicitly described as dangerous — examples include Dumbledore's, but also Merope Gaunt's.
  • This is the theme of Sense and Sensibility, starting with the title. Elinor represents "sense," which then meant what it does now - having a good head on your shoulders and not letting your feelings carry you away. Marianne represents "sensibility," which meant more of a strength of feeling or something akin to Romanticism. Austen's sympathies are clearly more with the former; Marianne's strong sensibility is tested throughout the novel, and she is eventually forced to learn to be more like her sister.
  • The Dunyain from R. Scott Bakker's Second Apocalypse books are major stoics, literally. They were heavily based on the ideas of Greek Stoicism and the concept of the Sage. This contrasts with the Cishaurim whose powers are derived from passion.
  • Played straight in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The New Lords found themselves far less powerful as spellcasters than the Old Lords because the New Lords were determined to keep their raw emotions in check and not fall prey to misusing their powers out of despair.
    • Then there are the Haruchai who like to bottle up their natural passion in favor for extreme stoicism and tend to end up highly judgemental of anyone who doesn't live up to their nigh-impossible standards.
  • One of the main conflicts between Drizzt and Entreri, though not based around morals. Entreri claims the superiority of his fighting style because he doesn't let himself feel emotions, while Drizzt claims his strengthen him. After repeated inconclusive fights Entreri is so desperate to prove his superiority that he has a duel set up in which he becomes completely enraged, while Drizzt keeps control of himself. In the end Entreri loses, while Drizzt dismisses the idea that this has proven either of them the better fighter. He considers it more due to luck, and the fact that Entreri is aging while Drizzt is comparatively barely out of his teens.
  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green-Sky Trilogy (which begins with Below the Root) has the Kindar—who, while not necessarily stoics, only consider positive emotions worthy of complete acknowledgment—versus the very expressive Erdlings.
  • K.J Parker's The Scavenger Trilogy. One of the roots of evil explored is unbridled emotion. Stoicism is more respected. By the end however, the sinister extreme of lacking all drives befalls several stoic characters.
  • ''Star Trek Novel Verse:
    • The Huanni embrace their emotions to the full, expressing them without restraint. They have an off-shoot race, Falorians, which are stoic and controlled (and pride themselves on such, being former slaves cast out of Huanni culture when they ceased being useful).
    • In the Star Trek: Titan novel Synthesis, an Andorian character is playing cards with a Vulcan, a Choblik and a Selenean (all races known for stoic logic in contrast to Andorian passion). Inevitably, she gets very, very frustrated by their exaggerated analytical approach to the game.
  • Knight in Sour Armor Tsovinar of Glory in the Thunder wrestles with this as her driving inner conflict. It doesn't help that gods are particularly prone to poor impulse control.
  • In Warm Bodies, it is inverted where it is the protagonists' passion for life (whether zombie or human) is what gives them the power to change the world while the antagonists' stoicism dooms them.

     Live Action TV  

  • Angel: Angel and Wesley often lock horns over the best way to handle cases. Wesley always finds a way to outmaneuver him, with disastrous results. One of these guys is too clever by half.
  • Somewhat inverted in Bones: Zack Addy, a character with apparent Asperger's and second to only Brennan in the logic department, sides with the serial killer called the Gormogon due to his own logic, believing the killer's to be infallible. Meanwhile, highly emotional characters such as Booth and Angela remain on the good side.
    • Although, in the end, Bones' own logic trumps Zack's by arguing (logically) in favor of emotion and attachment to other people.
      • And after that Butt Monkey Sweets proves that Zack's feeling of guilt (he considers himself a killer because he was certain that he was willing to kill) is based on severely flawed logic.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy and Kendra had a disagreement over the usefulness of emotions:
    Kendra: Emotions are weakness, Buffy. You shouldn't entertain them.
    Buffy: Kendra, my emotions give me power, They're total assets!
    Kendra: Maybe, for you. But I prefer to keep an even mind.
  • The two older Bass men on Gossip Girl keep telling Chuck that he is weak because he loves and therefore is ruled by his emotions. Only by being emotionless and stoic can he ever achieve greatness. Chuck of course buys into this, even telling his girlfriend "I can't let my feelings cost me all that I've built" after he sold her to his uncle in exchange for a hotel.
  • On NCIS, early Ziva aggressively shut downs her emotions, and the other characters call her on it. Highlighted in the two-parter episode "Hiatus", where Gibbs in seriously injured, and the other characters are furious that she doesn't show how upset she is.
  • The titular character of Sherlock at first steadfastly believes that emotionless and stoic is the best way to ensure success in his chosen field as a consulting detective, though he later begins to have doubts. His elder brother, however, is adamant.
    Sherlock: They all care so much. Do you ever wonder whether there's something wrong with us?
    Mycroft: All lives end; all hearts are broken. Caring's not an advantage, Sherlock.
  • In the sci-fi show Stargate Atlantis co-commanders and friends Elizabeth Weir and John Sheppard can fall into this dynamic. When facing an obstacle, Elizabeth is logical, while John is driven by impulses. Double reversal of the trope as she is a female civilian: associated with Emotion. He is a male soldier: associated with the Stoicism.
  • A common theme in Sirens with stoic Stuart intent on conquering all his emotions and psychological defence mechanisms but to the annoyance of the local therapist.
  • Star Trek Vulcans have such strong emotions that they'd end up being brutal savages if they didn't control their emotions. Romulans, their ancestral cousins, don't suppress their emotions and are indeed very passionate and warlike. That said, they are highly sophisticated and clever, and quite a few of them are decent chaps. Perhaps not bottling up helps them control their emotions to some degree?
    "They'll realize that beneath your unfeeling exterior is a heart that's breaking. Silently, and in more pain than any of us can possibly understand, because that's what it is to be Vulcan!" (Star Trek: Voyager: "Muse").
    • The Vulcans were sophisticated and clever too - they clearly got as far as interstellar travel before destroying themselves. Some suspect that the proto-Romulans probably agreed with the followers of Surak that something had to be done about Vulcan emotion, but strongly disagreed over exactly what. Regardless, they have clearly found some way to manage their emotions, since they are not nearly as warlike as the ancient Vulcans appeared to be. This does somewhat belie the oft-repeated Vulcan assertion that logic and emotion cannot be reconciled, but then again, the Romulans are no longer entirely the same species - perhaps they engineered the more volatile emotions out of their population?
    • In the Starfleet Battles spin-off universe, Romulan Culture is stated as having a principle of "Unifying Duty" to serve as an outlet for aggression and passion, where individuals set aside petty jealousies and personal ambition in service to the greater good of the species. While this has allowed the Romulans to avoid descending into barbaric self-destruction, it has also meant they use other species as an outlet for their aggression.
    • Inverted in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Empath"
    • Star Trek: Enterprise had an episode where the crew was surprised to meet a sect of Vulcans who believed that as long as you were careful not to let it get away from you, actually emoting was not bad in and of itself; they also ate meat, although I'm not precisely sure how that's totally relevant.
      • Vulcans have been demonstrated in an earlier episode to be culturally vegetarian. The fact that these Vulcans eat meat helps to demonstrates that they are unusual and do not subscribe to the same set of social tabboos as mainstream Vulcans.
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before," Gary Mitchell, a Starfleet officer, gains godlike powers, and becomes increasingly sociopathic. While the more emotional characters care for him too much to see what he's becoming, Spock is the only one to see that Gary Mitchell needs to die.
  • Supernatural has several examples, most of them inverting the usual trope:
    • Sam spends half of the 6th season soulless, which basically means that he's cold, logical, rational and highly efficient as a hunter without any nasty emotions to hamper him on the job. Oh and he also shoots innocent hostages, tries to kill Bobby and lets his brother be turned into a vampire.
    • Castiel is the one to get most blatantly morally corrupted.
  • House refuses to meet his patients, because remaining impersonal allows for objectivity. He criticizes Cameron and Wilson for becoming emotionally involved with patients, since it clouds their medical judgement.

     Music 

  • The subject of Rush's "Hemispheres", which tells of a civilization's struggle with balancing emotion and logic.

     Tabletop Games  

     Video Games  

  • The main characters of Killzone stand on both sides of this, with Templar and Rico be emotional and Luger and Hakha be stoic.
  • Inverted in Pokémon Platinum, where the antagonist is a deadpan Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • In Space Siege the inversion of this trope essentially has a three-way with the Karma Meter and Cybernetics Eat Your Soul. The setting doesn't have augmentations in the proper sense—instead, you cut off and replace entire limbs with more powerful robotic equivalents, in the process losing your ability to empathize with normal people, which is a Very Bad Thing. (Word of God compares the process to getting addicted to cocaine.)
  • Lusternia has this in the conflict between Hallifax (a Crystal Spires and Togas Floating Continent, populated by a whole race of stoics and with a strong communist motif) and Gaudiguch (a city of hedonistic mystics, with forbidden lore of magic stretching back thousands of years). They also serve as an example of Magic Versus Science.
  • In I Miss the Sunrise, people apparently repressed their emotions in the past, though they're resurfacing now. The characters tend to treat them as both a blessing and a curse, instead of planting themselves firmly on one side. Most characters do lean towards one or the other. The personality bars, especially the mentality one, also represent this.
    • The Multiple Endings seem to be connected to this. The optimist ending is sentimental, the pessimist ending is rational.

     Web Comics  

  • In The Order of the Stick, V's recent story arc exemplifies the dangers of both sides of this pretty well actually. She/he pulls away from the group and emotionality (what little he/she had to start) and dives head first into repression and stoicism after the battle of Azure City. Eventually this leads to some pretty distressing lack of empathy, isolation, and eventually splitting of on her/his own to pursue the power needed to save the world. But when his/her family is suddenly threatened because of V's own past actions, her/his emotions come storming back, overwhelming his/her rationality and leading to some very distressing situations, possible Moral Event Horizon, and flirtation with permanent alignment shifting (to EVIL).
  • In Freefall, arguments for why Florence should eat the bunnies have no chance against tears.

     Web Original  

  • Word of God has it that this was originally meant to be the point of The Wolf's Will; unfortunately they lose their stoic after the first chapter
    • And find a better stoic.

     Western Animation  

  • Used in Transformers: Beast Machines - the Maximals (and Megatron) must master their emotions in order to transform, and if they lose self-control, they are forced back into beast mode. On the other hand, Megatron advocates the abolition of all emotions and individuality from Cybertron so that can become a god.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender : "The Beach." Zuko and Mai's fight is basically this. Zuko is all emotion and he lets his temper and impulses get away from him. Mai is all stoicism to the point where she doesn't seem to care about anything and can't express any emotion. Eventually they come to understand each other, with Zuko learning to think more calmly and rationally and Mai learning to be more free with her feelings.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Clock King", Temple Fugate is The Stoic who cannot understand his fellow human beings. When Hill advises him to break his schedule, he intends to make Fugate less stoic and more emotional. This Goes Horribly Right because Hill's advice backfired and now Fugate's only emotional activity is a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Hill.


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alternative title(s): Emotions Versus Stoicism
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