Cry, Cry, Cry

cryingA while back Gloria Steinem created a minor stir, when during an interview, she suggested that it should be all right to cry at the office. There is an unfortunate stigma associated with displaying tears in public. For men, crying has never been acceptable. Men who cry are babies. We expect women to cry but have no respect for them when they do. They’re “emotional.”

To my mind, Buddhism is focused on denying or suppressing the emotions only to the extent that we want to control disturbing, negative and dangerous emotions that are rooted in craving and egoism. But the idea is not to deny all emotion. Even though the stereotypical image of a Buddhist, particularly a monk, is that of a person always calm and collected, who does not show emotion in public, I have cried privately and publicly during the past two weeks. During my words at my father’s memorial service, I had to pause a few times as my emotions ran over. I have seen one of the most famous monks in the world cry (see The Dalai Lama is Crying).

In a book titled Destructive Emotions, author Daniel Goleman quotes the Dalai Lama,

Distinguishing between constructive and destructive emotions is right there to be observed in the moment when a destructive emotion arises-the calmness, the tranquility, the balance of the mind is immediately disrupted. Other emotions do not destroy equilibrium or the sense of well-being as soon as they arise, but in fact enhance it, therefore would be called constructive.”

This is what is called emotional intelligence, a term popularized by Goleman, a Buddhist psychologist, in the late 90s. According to Wikipedia, “Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the ability of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”

Is crying a constructive emotion? The Buddha made the point that the intention behind an act determines whether or not it is constructive or destructive. Crying does have some positive benefits. I’ve read that crying can be helpful as an emotional release and that crying lowers stress and releases toxins from the body.

In her interview, Gloria Steinem doesn’t actually say it’s all right to cry at the office, but it is implied. She does say, “We try to stay in control too long . . .”

A writer for the NY Post, Naomi Schaefer Riley, called Steinem’s remarks “lunatic advice.” I hope this woman is not related to me, because I’ve always been in favor of a certain amount of lunacy. And Steinem is right, for control can be an attachment every bit as destructive as craving.

The Buddhist Way is the Middle Way. So, like Matthew Mcconaughey says in the car commercial with where he’s driving down a road in Griffith Park , “You’ve just gotta find that balance.”

In this video, Neil Young gets all rockabilly on the subject:


7 thoughts on “Cry, Cry, Cry

  1. A Bodhisattva will probably cry due to overwhelming empathy/compassion for someone (perhaps a mother who lost her child)…but I believe this is due to their own vows of letting themselves go deep into the skillful conduct of compassion. Technically this is a path they chose…like a tool, or way of life.

    I believe this doesn’t mean “crying” is skillful or expected/ideal. Would a Buddha cry ?Technically Buddha is not defined/limited by anything; I doubt an all-knowing/all-seeing person (buddha) would feel the need, or compelled, to cry for anything…other than as a consequence of own volition/action (karma/bodhisattva-practice) for OTHERS., not for themselves.

    1. I don’t know if all buddhas do not feel compelled to cry for anything, but Thich Nhat Hanh in his book on the historical Buddha wrote: “The Buddha folded the king’s hands on his chest and then motioned for everyone to stop crying. He told them to follow their breathing… [At the funeral, the Buddha said] “A person who has attained the Way looks on birth, old age, sickness and death with equanimity.”

      On the other hand, as you say, bodhisattvas will probably cry, and according to legend, the celestial being Tara, whose names in Tibet is Sgrol-ma, meaning “she who saves,” was born out of the tears of compassion of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara . . .

      1. Equanimity, yes. The question is, if there is utility in crying…or for that matter any kind of “becoming”(aka birth). Buddha says we have to strive to end the repeated births/becoming…go past them all. This reminds of how we cry, a lot, when we were a child., but then grew up to be adults not cry for same stuff we used to. So ” crying” , though a good/natural coping mechanism, there is nothing really special or desirable about it. This doesn’t mean we don’t feel the emotions, just means we have the intimate understanding/maturity.

  2. I work in a very stressful, emotionally charged, piece of the American progressive left. People cry. You lose a campaign and also lose your cool. You’ve been working 18 hour days for 20 days straight and break down. Stuff like that. It happens. People are supportive (or not). Etc.

    Some people at work are close and crying is appropriate together. Your spouse was diagnosed with cancer. You’re worried about a major mistake you made. You and your co-worker go somewhere to talk and some tears flow. Kind of normal scenarios.

    However, the reason it isn’t broadly great to display a wide emotional range in the workplace, generally, is because, unlike the boomer generation that believes evrything they feel and experience individually is of utmost importance… It isn’t. Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean your co-workers have to experience it. I’ve worked with some very volatile people over the years. Big time criers. Very angry outburst types. You name it.

    The one uniform thing they have all had in common is that they believed their emotional needs were more important than everyone else around them. I don’t like emotional volatility from people I just kind of know. It feels dangerous and out of control. It puts me right back into my childhood with a mentally ill parent. And many other people have very similar experiences. Which is one very good reason why regulating emotions is a positive skill. There are more. That’s the one I find important.

    Cry with your loved ones. Cry with your friends. Cry when the situation makes it appropriate (which should be damned rare at work). Don’t decide your personal emotional content deserves a fair hearing just because someone made the mistake of accepting a job and got assigned the desk next to you.

    While Buddhism is certainly not about emotional suppression… It is ok that public spaces are.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m mostly in agreement with you. I learned of my brother’s death at work and went off by myself for a few private moments. However, someone else might need to feel the warmth of others, to be comforted. I personally have never cared for emotional displays in the workplace but I don’t expect folks to stop being human when they show up for work each morning. I think it goes back to finding balance, using wisdom and compassion in both crying and reacting to those who cry.

  3. Thanks for this David. I’m in agreement that the suppression of crying is harmful to society. There is an almost palpable approval of displaying anger in the workplace – and I mean anger in the transactional sense, where one imposes their will over another to the detriment of the other. I suppose this macho mentality has been around for as long as patriarchal society, and it’s sadly very effective in self perpetuation. I’m glad you got through your dad’s memorial with a few tears to show your heart. It’s good to cry at times like these.

  4. David, I lit a candle for your father. I’m sorry for your loss.

    I very much like your take on Buddhist emotions. My question to Duke would be, how do you respond to someone who “decides” her/his emotional life needs to be made public? No, it shouldn’t happen, but what do we do when it happens anyway?

    And thanks, thanks for the Shocking Pinks video! I saw a Trans/Pinks show way back when — one, or two, of my favorite of Neil’s transmogrifications.

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