To the men who cry

A few years ago I heard a man talking on on radio about a distressing experience he had suffered. After it, he confessed, he had cried, which he regretted as he thought it a sign of weakness. What a contrast then to read in the newspaper that Sergeant John Shea had "unashamedly shed a tear" after successfully defusing the harrowing situation in Launceston when he and three police colleagues were shot.

Crying, shaking, sweating, raging - in fact whatever the body needs to do - are natural and necessary parts of recovering from such an ordeal.

Unfortunately, these reactions are usually denied us by well-meaning "helpers" who urge us to "keep a stiff upper lip", "have a drink to settle your nerves" or even say "oh come on, you should be over it by now". Even less helpful are the admonitions to boys "don't be a sissy" or the even more horrifying "stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about".

The results of such suppression of emotions are complex and far reaching.

People in the grip of a stressful situation lose the ability to think clearly. How often do you hear or see someone "paralysed by fear" or someone so angry that rational thought is impossible? That wonderful computer the brain is unable to handle the incoming information and file it properly in the memory; instead it is as if some of the "circuits" are "blanked out". If the person is then denied the chance to talk through that event to a supportive listener and to feel and express the emotions involved then those circuits remain blanked out. This has two further consequences:

· Similar situations will give rise to the same (panic?) reactions despite any differences in the new situation.

· More and more "circuits" will become " blanked out" leading to an increasing loss of ability to think clearly.

As a male who was sneered at for showing emotions when young ("cry-baby") I can vouch for the damage done by societal attitudes. When anger is perceived as the most acceptable emotion for males is it any wonder that incidents such as that in Launceston take place? I wish Sergeant Shea and his colleagues a full and speedy recovery from their trauma and congratulate them on their courage and clear thinking in resolving a very dangerous incident.

Peter Hepburn

(From Men's Advancement Newsletter, Claremont, Tasmania)

Everything that we do as humans has a kind of expressive value. It means something not only to us, but to our fellow humans as well, and if you think about your own responses to a person weeping, they tend to be rather profound. We think that people are under a great deal of stress when they weep, or they're weeping for very important reasons, and so we attend to them very closely.

If we go back to looking at infants, weeping and crying out is a signal that they need their caretaker near them, and I think that follows us through up until adulthood. And when we weep as adults it means "I need help, I need someone close to me."

Gender differences in crying are enormous. Right off the bat when I started studying weeping and asked people to describe the situation in which they wept in front of another person, I found that men had a great deal of difficulty describing an episode of crying in the presence of another person. They often had to dip farther back in the past, in their own history, to find an episode. The episodes they described tended to be somewhat less complex, and had less to do with relationships than those of women, and surveys of the kinds of things that lead people to weep find a big difference in the reported frequency of weeping by men and women.

I don't think there's any less need for men to weep. I would love to see men weeping more. It's a marvellous form of expressing our vulnerability to others, and there are lots of times when I think we need to do that. We need to say, "Hey, I really need some help." And in many western cultures, men are socialised to not display their vulnerability.

Edited from speech by Randolph Cornelius, Associate Professor of Psychology at Vassar College in the U.S., ABC Radio National 15 April 1996

I want to lift a glass (or a cup of coffee) to toast some men who cried:

At the Oscar ceremonies Monday night, there was Paul Sorvino bawling with pride for his daughter Mira, and there was also Michael Douglas tearfully applauding his father Kirk.

But the one I really want to toast is Ed Muskie, who died the other day and had his "crying" scene from the 1972 presidential campaign featured on every American network's coverage of his death. He cried in defense of his wife, and it hurt his presidential ambitions. God forbid we should have leaders who care and who let a little humanity show.

To me, we don't move forward when we decide that crying is unmasculine, and that we therefore should move toward androgyny. We move forward when we recognize that crying is a legitimate masculine activity - one which should be encouraged.

Warren Gray

On this subject, I always go back to my childhood - and later - reading of the Odyssey, certainly one of the greatest male epics in literature. There, when something tragic happened, Odysseus and his men would sit on the ground and weep. And, then, they'd go and beat the shit out of whoever/whatever had hurt them or their fellows.

My tears are a welcome part of me and they come both from the common humanity I share with women - the grief of loss, the joy of birth - and from the masculine humanity I share with my brothers - the joy of the hunt, the sadness of battles lost.

I also think of Schwartzkopf during Desert Storm who was unafraid to tell Barbara Walters of his tears and of his belief that a man who couldn't cry shouldn't lead men into battle.

Tears are neither a sign of weakness nor of sensitivity. They are just a part of the human experience.

Robert Powell

Dr Helen Caldicott recalls Gorbachev addressing a meeting of 3000 women: "He started talking about nuclear war and that went to the seat of his soul. And I knew then what really motivated him... He understood that Russian flesh burns at the same temperature as American flesh, and I knew that that was what his driving force was. And at the end two children went up, one American and one Russian, and handed him a crystal globe of the world. He turned away and was wiping his eyes; he was crying... I thought it would be an American who would end the Cold War... but I learned that if you speak the truth unequivocally, there's help from elsewhere".

Transcribed from Life Matters, Radio National, 3/7/96

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