Mar 04

A Veteran’s Silly Response to a Theory

Silly Response 1

Be silly. This is my response to Dr. Robert Plutchik’s Psychoevolutionary Theory of Emotion. Now, let’s back up and understand why I have such an abrupt response to such an esoteric topic. (Not to mention a word that gets the red line of spelling error, with no suggestions available.) I am going to address this theory, give my reasons for why I as a military veteran support this theory but believe that the emotion of silly is a valued addition to Dr. Plutchik’s eight emotional ranges (shown below), shoot holes in my inclusion, and summarize my response.

Dr. Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

wheel of emotions 1
Dr. Plutchik (21 October 1927 – 29 April 2006) was professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and adjunct professor at the University of South Florida (Robert Plutchik, Wikipedia). His highly-influential classification approach for general emotion responses includes eight basic emotions of anticipation, surprise, joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, and anger, and their ranges. The mild emotions within each range denote where we should attempt to be, and the intense ends of each represent where we might be but do not want to stay.

I was an active duty US Army soldier from 2000 – 2010. Like many others, I had my share of experiences. I left the military after a decade of service (I weighed options at the halfway point), and transitioned into civilian life. In the coming months and years following, my range of emotions became skewed, with some spending more time in the intense end of the range and others hardly moving beyond the mild side. I didn’t notice it, but others did. In the latter part of 2012, I started reading articles online about veterans transitioning into civilian life. About how perspectives often change. I tried to wrap my head around my emotions, which felt out of whack. My anger often just heightened to rage. My sadness to grief. My joy at times wouldn’t rise above serenity despite times that should warrant more. I was bored when I never was before. I developed what I now know as hypervigilance. I spent my evenings reading. I read about S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), C-PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and other aspects of mental health as it pertains to emotions. I realized that people, in general, experience a variety of emotions and ranges within each. It was then that I found Dr. Plutchik’s Psychoevolutionary Theory of Emotion. Within it, the Wheel of Emotion. At first glance, it appears as a colorful infographic, displaying emotions as colors. To me, it illustrated many things that I was only piecing together within myself. This image showed it all together, in a way that showed how they relate. The Wheel actually has more depth than what I will detail here, and is just a visual aid to his theory. I took a lot from it, but also felt as if something was missing. Criticism of his theory includes a lack of pride, yet the addition of boredom. Though I can understand the omission of pride, I support boredom as part of his Wheel. What I realized in the beginning of 2013, however, was an important missing emotion from the wheel: silly.

Me, feeling silly. (2009)

Me, feeling silly. (2009)


I started looking back at when I felt normal, and realized that I was a silly guy. I had silly thoughts, liked writing silly things, and reading silly stuff. Growing up, I loved poetry of Shel Silverstein and The Far Side (thanks, Dad). As a teen, I think I had every cassette / CD of “Weird Al” Yankovic, and enjoyed the animation of Bill Plympton. Being silly was an emotion I liked to feel, and I liked partaking in whatever was made with silliness oozing from the corners. Fast forward to early 2013, when I realized this was an emotion I had somehow neglected after I left the military. I then created The Zarf. The Zarf is where I can be puerile. Where I can feel silly. Tending to this emotion helped me feel aligned again. This is an emotion that needs to fit in with the other eight ranges of the Wheel, right between vigilance and joy. Playful, Silly, and Ridiculous – these would be the mild, main, and intense emotions I would recommend be considered by mental health professionals.

Tulup Playful

To counter my own, I would say that some criticisms might question “silly” as an emotion. How would it even fit when compared to others in the Wheel, that oppose one another? To that I would say that being silly is the very definition of not fitting in. It does not need an opposition, much like joy has sadness. And just like the other eight emotions are within a range, where one can range from acceptance to trust to admiration, I would implore others to notice that we can be inherently playful, seen as silly, and told not to be ridiculous. The emotional range fits, just as how some things make people feel fearful or surprised. Being silly helped counter the heavy tipping of emotions I felt in recent years, and belongs on wedged in the opposite end of the Wheel – fitting in and not at the same time.

I find great worth in Dr. Plutchik’s Psychoevolutionary Theory of Emotion, to include his accompanying Wheel of Emotions. As someone with no profession in the field, I can only study and appreciate. My education is not in psychology. I would like to contribute my addition of being silly to his range of emotions, however. Like many, I have felt many of the emotions and their varying degrees of intensity. I have also realized that the best way to provide balance to such a structurally uniformed display, is to throw it off balance. Our emotions can at times fluctuate, and that’s OK. Just take a moment to realize that it’s not that serious. Be silly.

Sillyvester - Ridiculous

Written by Travis Blair.
“Dorcus” (Zarfling on top, being silly) by Bearman.
“Tulup” (Zarfling in middle, being playful) by Zoe Blair.
“Sillyvester” (Zarfling on bottom, being ridiculous) by Brad Perri.
Check out The Zarfling Exhibit here!