A 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: