Dreaming for Freud

The internal conflicts

On the Advantages of the Seven Deadly Sins

Or what is wrong with wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony?

Each of these sins, it seems to me, has certain necessary advantages. They need to be practiced with skill, instead of being entirely avoided.

We need to know how to get angry appropriately. There are moments in my life, looking back, when anger, if I had had access to it, would have been very helpful to me. Instead of turning rage inwards it might have been much better to acknowledge it and express it. Often as a teacher, too, one needs to put the good of the class above an individual and a little controlled anger, a glance that will put a student in his place, for example, can be very useful.

As for avarice, it, too, has its place. We need, after all, to be careful with our money, to know the price of things, and demand a fair price for our work. It is often helpful with children or grandchildren to encourage independence and any contributions they might be able to make.

Sloth, it seems to me, is often very helpful in my work as a writer. It is often when I am taking time off, in the shower, walking, driving, reading, or swimming or just dreaming that ideas come to me and that I am able to solve a problem that has seemed insolvable at my desk.

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Pride, surely, is what often leads us to behave. We will not stoop to the level of those who are willing to compromise with their morals. I have noticed that good people are often proud ones who hold their heads high and make sure that they do the right thing even if others stray from the narrow path.

And to feel lust for someone we love is a lucky, lucky thing. We need to allow ourselves to feel lustful at the right moment and with the right mate, to enjoy the pleasure our bodies can give us so bountifully.

So what about envy? It too can stir us on to greater heights in our work. Competition with someone we envy can enable us to improve our skills in whatever medium we work.

As for gluttony, without good appetite, life becomes grey, it seems to me. In Europe it is customary to wish one another a good appetite at the beginning of a meal. We need to enjoy our food, look forward to a good meal, be grateful we have enough to eat, and eat and talk well with those around us with pleasure.

So let’s lift a glass and toast the seven sins which need not be so deadly at all.

With a drawing by Jean Marcellino

Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.


Sheila Kohler teaches at Princeton. She is the author of many books including Dreaming for Freud, Becoming Jane Eyre, and Cracks, which was made into a film with Eva Green.


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