Weeping Parisian – 1941 – (source: Wikipedia)
When the Zambian football team won the Africa Cup of Nations last Sunday, I cried tears of joy. I was watching the game with my family and I felt a bit embarrassed about showing the full depth of my emotions. That set me thinking about something I've often wondered about. It is often said "Men don't cry." Why shouldn't men cry?
The truth is that men do cry. Throughout history, there are examples of great men who cried. The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11.35: "Jesus wept." (When he was told that his friend, Lazarus, had died). Our own first president of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda used to openly break down at public rallies when he talked about subjects that moved him deeply. The last time I saw my father cry was at my mum's funeral. Recently, we saw pictures of men openly weeping on the streets of North Korea following Kim Jong II's death. These are examples of tears of sorrow.
Beauty and glory can also lead to the shedding of tears. Tough American football players who have never cried admit to getting teary eyed when they talk about a touchdown. Some men break down when they witness the birth of their own child. In the darkly lit movie theatre, many a man will silently wipe away a tear.
“Crocodile tears” result from a medical condition where damaged facial nerves recover with erroneous re-wiring. The crossed nerves lead to stimulation of tear production instead of saliva when the patient is eating.
These examples illustrate that there are circumstances in which it is reasonable to expect men to shed tears.
Most people will assume that when we talk about crying we are talking about crying in public. If you are one of those men who will jump up and say you have never cried, is that the case for when you are on your own? Does that count as crying?
Like laughter and yawning, crying is one of those things we don't yet fully understand. Crying is a serious business. There are scientists who go out to work in the morning to study crying. They make people cry in the laboratory so that they can study crying. Scientists have found that women, on average, cry about once a week, while men on average cry about once a month. In women, there's a relationship between the tendency to cry and the time of the month. Scientists have discovered that some hormones are secreted in tears. They inform us that the tears of sorrow contain different chemicals from the tears that result from something getting into your eyes. A lot of research is still going on.
What purpose is achieved by crying is not fully understood. The fact that there are both tears of joy and tears of sorrow only seems to confuse issues. When people shed tears of sorrow, they usually report that the act of crying led to a feeling of relief or resolution. Crying acts as an emotional outlet valve.
In common language, it is agreed that to cry means to shed tears or to weep. It also means to utter an urgent appeal. This definition points to another important meaning that even new born babies understand. Crying can be a way of drawing attention to your plight and asking for help.
A lot of women report that they admire a man who can cry because that is a sign that they are in touch with their tender emotional side. Others prefer a man with a stiff upper lip. Some men will be embarrassed and even annoyed to see another man cry. Others will reach out and support a friend who they perceive to be in need of support.
As a man, every time you feel like crying, you have to consider the reaction of those around and weigh that against your own need to freely express yourself. Those around you may be taken by surprise and may not be sure how to react. They may laugh out of embarrassment or they may reach out and touch your shoulder in sympathy? They may be your peers and they may feel that you are letting them down because they don’t believe in crying. It is no wonder that most men opt for the easy option of not leaving themselves emotionally vulnerable.
Your reaction is also a statement about your relationship with those around you. The deepest relationship is one in which you will have no fear of being misunderstood because you cried. A friend of mine likes to have a few beers before going home. When he gets home, he asks his wife to sit with him and cry with him in memory of all his relatives who have passed on. I would not go to that extent.
Even when you hope to have an honest discussion about crying, there is no guarantee that your fellow men will give you accurate information. Those who practice "tactical crying" will swear that they never cry, and yet they will shed tears when they watch a sad movie. They just don't let anybody catch them doing it.
I stand with men who cry and believe that tears don’t make a man any less of a man. How does crying make you less of a man?
What is the reason behind this widely held view? Is it good for men to bottle up their emotions? Where do you stand? What are your reasons for your views?
Share your views with us below.