The “Tar-Baby”, a fictional character in one of the Uncle Remus stories, is a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entrap Br’er Rabbit. The more that Br’er Rabbit physically fights the Tar-Baby, the more entangled he becomes. In modern usage, “tar baby” refers to any “sticky situation” that is only aggravated by additional involvement in it. For many… indulging certain emotions can be a Tar-Baby!
Jake got a new job in a different town. A few months later he met his old co-workers at a restaurant for some “catch-up”. As he sat listening to things that had happened since he left, to how the old intrigues between individuals were playing out, he had the odd thought: “It is funny how everyone else continues with their life even though I’m no longer part of it.” When he left the restaurant he felt strangely unsettled, as if even while being dead he had been permitted to come back and watch his own funeral. This feeling gradually darkened his afternoon until the evening found him immobilized on the couch by a full-blown depression. The thought that he knew better than to entertain depressing thoughts served only to depress him further and generate a feeling of helplessness. He thought:“I wish I didn’t feel anything.” Indulging in feelings of depression is Jake’s Tar-Baby.
Louise is, generally, a powder-keg awaiting a flame! The slightest thing can cause her face to redden and her temper to flare into an explosion, often leaving her panting once the storm has passed. A friend once really pissed her off by commenting, “You know, it doesn’t take any special talent to become angry!” Louise never plans on becoming angry; as she sees it… it just happens. All she knows is that she never feels so alive as when she feels outraged about something, or someone! At the same time, she has had innumerable experiences of the anger causing her to say such terrible things that some relationships have been permanently ruptured, and in such situations she feels as if the anger had somehow taken her hostage. Indulging in feelings of anger is Louise’s Tar-Baby.
When Fred left home at 18 for college, for the first time in his life no one was telling him what he had to do, and this reality caused him to discover that if he “didn’t feel like it” there was no one to make him do something. This realization gave him such a rush, and was as addicting for Fred as Meth, that as a result he indulged in it quite often… so often, in fact, that he failed all of his first-semester courses, causing him to reason: “I just don’t feel like doing this”, and as a result he dropped out. As his life progressed “dropping out” became a pattern, his go-to course of action, and as a result his life never really progressed in any personally satisfying way. For Fred “I don’t feel like it” is his Tar-Baby.
One of the hallmarks of maturation is the ability to look beyond the immediacy of whatever we feel, to see where making choices based upon those feelings might lead our life, and to grow in the ability to make choices which take us where we ultimately wish to arrive… despite whatever we might feel right now. If our life keeps wrecking upon the rocks it would be helpful to ask, “Whose hand is on the tiller… ours, or our emotions?”