Tears, Trying Times & Tenderness

Tears, Trying Times & Tenderness

Tears, Trying Times & Tenderness

When did you last cry? What caused your tears? Did you cry in private or did others see you crying? Did you feel better for crying or did you feel uncomfortable about it? Would you say that your tears were tears of frustration, sadness, joy, hysteria, something else? Did anyone help you to get over or recover from your spell of weeping?

There have been many studies of who, when and why people cry. Answers usually seem to reflect whatever is the current psychological whim. However, Thomas Dixon, director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, writes interestingly about crying in an article called The Waterworks. It is published in Weekend Reads from AEON (newsletter@aeon.co). He asks ‘crying must mean something but what?’ All mentors and coaches see people cry and why they do so during these developing, reparative and encouraging processes matters.

Even after 25 years of dealing professionally with people of all intellectual levels, every sort of social position and a wide variety of faiths, I hardly know the answer. Our spirit struggles to reconcile the wishes we have to help others with our need to survive and support our nearest and dearest. We can weep over the plight of starving children in Africa but the loss of a long-term close friend brings on tears of seemingly greater uncontrolled grief.

Working with clients I notice the tendency to cry has increased with world stress. Vulnerability to forces beyond our control is a major reason why people pray. Prayer replaces tears for many who weep in private, if at all. Men have a macho belief that crying is weakness. If it is a tear of fear that might be true. Tears of feeling are perfectly legitimate. Your mentor or coach may be a last-resort source of empathy and understanding.

Mentors know that crying in moderation is desirable because it shows what Good Pope Francis calls tenderness – see his recent TED talk, forget about religion and notice what he concentrates on. Tenderness, in the context of our discussion, is gentleness, kindliness. It demonstrates, without affectation, our sensitivity. After jealousy – probably the most genuine of all our emotions – sensitivity is the attribute that enables us to be creatively tender.

You may say that tenderness doesn’t pay off. People don’t play tenderly and you have to follow their rules. Brutality, whether physical, verbal or manipulative is the name of the game. In the very short term it is but it destroys society, inspires destruction, fans the flames of intolerance and bigotry. It regresses us inexorably back to being animals. Tenderness is the only way we have to make the world a better place for others. We search for happiness in the wrong places. It is found mainly in someone else’s look of gratitude.

Most important is the release that tears bring to stress. When you are expected to show a brave face for others there are limited places where you can display your fears and weaknesses without risk to your reputation or authority. Your tears have to be followed swiftly by action, not wallowing in self-pity, of course. Discipline and feeling have never been incompatible though some people would have you believe they are.

There is a phrase from the Bible I have always puzzled over. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.” In two thousand years we have begun to understand it a little.

Maybe one day we will practice it. It is the only paradise I can imagine.