One of my earliest memories is of watching black and white Bollywood movies. I can barely remember them but I recall these movies as having isolated shots, dialogues that echoed (quite literally) and tragic storylines. Not to forget the dramatic background music that somehow made the movies all the more somber. But what I attach to these movies is less the movie itself but a conversation I often think back to.
I was in the drawing room, engrossed in one of these movies, when my parents joined me with their newly arrived guests. Maybe they wanted me to move to another room but whatever signs they dropped, to a seven-year-old, they failed to communicate their intentions miserably. They spoke to one another anyway for a length of time (I think) but their conversation eventually steered towards me. One look at the TV screen (the movie was coming to a heartbreaking climax) and me, my father predicted that I’d start crying in less than ten minutes. “She cries easily,” he told them.
And to the great amusement of my spectators, I did. Seven or seventy (not that I know what being seventy is like), people in distress and misery saddens me and shedding tears is how I respond. Not because I’m choosing this medium to express, this is just my natural response and I give into that urge quite easily. “You don’t cry over made up things like these,” said the adults, not unkindly.
That was when I decided that crying was a sign of weakness. If it weren’t, why would the adults (who to the child me seemed to know everything but I know better now) laugh at me crying over a movie? Maybe that was what being tough meant, never showing how you truly felt (not crying in my case).
I’m not the only one who was conditioned to thinking crying is a show of weakness. Being tough (even today) means never giving in to tears. What a farce the idea of toughening is. Popular adages like “Real men don’t cry” and “Weeping like a girl” have harmed generations and continue to do so even today. You say this to a young child and he/she will grow up learning to suppress his/her own emotions, dismiss someone else’s and force this very idea on another young child. Human beings are born with complex emotion patterns and to tell them to suppress what is innate and inborn is actually telling them to go against their nature. To tell someone they shouldn’t feel this or that or that shedding tears is admitting to your frailty is suggesting that one must not behave like the creature one was wired to be.
Once on Twitter, a thread caught my eye. It was hard not to, it had hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets. The original poster (OP) wrote about how at a concert he was irritated by a sixteen-year-old weeping and sniffling the whole time. “How embarrassing,” he finished. There were hundreds of replies, people recounting similar experiences and echoing the same sentiments. Most replies sympathized with the OP and gave their own reasoning as to what social ‘decorum’ really is. I wonder if they paused to consider that the sixteen-year-old might have her own side of the story. Maybe she has attachments to the song or the artist. Maybe she has a memory attached to it like I do with vintage Bollywood movies. Maybe something at the concert connected with her. But it’s so simple to dismiss someone else’s side of the story when you can make up your own scenarios and clown them for something so natural. Sparing them a thought may be too much work for some people.
I once spoke to a musician and he told me that the one instance that stands out the most in his years of performing was when a young girl, who stood alone on the frontlines, cried during the entire show. That experience, he told me, in his own words was “profound”. If his music was strong enough to move a person so emotionally, maybe there was something he was doing right. He never spoke to her and she never approached him either but her tears to him were a greater acknowledgement of his work than all the verbal praises he had ever received.
It’s saddening, the point we have come to. Warding off people, keeping a stoic facade, speaking brief and terse sentences are how you come off as calm and collected. “Don’t stop the tears from falling down,” sings Jordan Smith in “Stand in the Light”. This archetype is typical to most songs on empowerment and positivity and they address this very notion of people being taught to reign in their emotions. Such songs generally promote gender equality, mental health and such worldly issues and they never miss out to mention “emotion positivity”. We shouldn’t either. How hard is giving someone else their own space and respecting their choices or even how they react at a concert?
That being said, weaponizing crying isn’t right either. Weaponizing anything isn’t right really. If you’re not winning an argument and decide that you will shed a few tears as your trump card to win that is you being unable to comprehend the fact that you’re just not putting up a solid argument. Substituting your tears for hard logic or guilt tripping people with your tears is absolutely wrong and perhaps also the reason why crying gets a bad rap.
I believe crying isn’t a bad thing at all unless you use it as a defense mechanism for your failings. Like all other human emotions, crying too is natural. It’s definitely not a sign of weakness because it shows you have the courage to be empathetic and to feel what others feel. But many people just don’t get that and that’s a crying shame.