It’s okay to cry!

I recently went through some changes that are dear to my heart, and as a result, I cried a great deal. This period reminded me of many conflicting advises that I have heard about whether it’s okay to cry in public or to cry at all.

“Don’t cry, Thanh. As a mom, you need to show a strong face to your kids. Do not let them see you cry”, said a good friend.

“Man up. Boys don’t cry”, said my dad to my son.

And, then there is this song “It’s All Right to Cry” performed by Rosy Grier in the music album “Free to Be You and Me”. The lyrics is included in the bottom of this article if you are interested.

With all these conflicting advises, it’s truly hard to know what to do. Also, what if you are one of the people with tender heart and prone to cry easily, are you a lost cause who deems to fail in life?

In this article, I’d like to discuss whether it’s okay to cry in public or at work; and whether crying is a sign of weakness.

Is it okay to cry at work?

There are two schools of thoughts:

School number 1: Work is a place to be logical and rational. Do not bring emotion and feeling to work. Detach yourself, and do not get emotionally attached to the people or events at work. Do not make friends at work, or show a personal side of yourself at work. When you go home, you can be your whole self.

Evidently, if you follow the first school of thoughts, you will experience less emotion with work, and will probably never cry at work.

School number 2: Bring your heart to work. Bring your whole self to work. An ancient wisdom said: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”

If you are one of those people who live and breathe the second school of thoughts, you will pour your heart and mind into work. You don’t look at the 8 to 5 clock and wait to get home to enjoy life. Life is work, and work is life. Regardless of whether you are at home or at work, you are having fun. Thus, work brings you joy. In embracing this attitude, you are also susceptible to sadness. As you build relationship at work and develop empathy for your colleagues, you are happy to see them succeed, but you are also sad when they fail or leave the company. When you believe in the mission and vision of the work you do, you will be devastated if your work is canceled or if you fail to succeed. In these heart-broken situations, it’s very likely that you will cry. It’s impossible to be passionate about your work, and at the same time, remain unaffected when things don’t work out. As Brene Brown, the author of “Daring Greatly” said: “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

Is “crying” a sign of weakness?

Throughout history, you have seen examples of great men and women cry in public.

Jesus Christ, from the Christian Bible, was described as a man with great empathy. He cried when he witnessed his friends crying over the death of their loved one (John 11:35). Would anyone say Jesus a weak person? A man who is willing to be crucified on the cross to defend what he believes in is not a weak person.

President Abraham Lincoln is known to cry frequently. He cried when he first listened to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. He cried when he heard of the death of his political opponent, Stephen A. Douglas. Is President Abraham Lincoln a weak person? I wouldn’t dare to say so.

On D day in 1944, after sending their men to Normandy beach, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower both teared up, realizing that the casualty will be high, and that they have done all they can, and now it’s it out of their hands, according to “Ike: An American Hero” by Michael Korda. Would anyone think of Churchill and Eisenhower as weak leaders?

Do a quick search on the internet and you will find many more leaders who cried in public. Gerald Ford cried. George H. W. Bush cried. Barrack Obama cried. Hilary Clinton cried. They all cried because they personally vested in their work. They embraced work just as they embraced their own personal life. As a result, during high-stake and emotional moments at work, their tears just came out, regardless whether they were in a public setting or not.

Personally, I am a crier. I put my heart into what I’m doing. I have compassion for people around me. If you are my friend or have worked with me, it’s very likely that you have seen me cry. When my work fails, I cry. When I see a suffering person, I cry. However, crying doesn’t mean that I am knocked down and stayed down. Crying doesn’t mean that I accept failure. After each and every incident, I always stand up, look forward, and move forward.

What to do if you witness someone who is crying and it makes you feel uncomfortable?

People have told me that they feel uncomfortable when they see someone crying. If you are one of those, that is okay. That doesn’t mean you are a bad person or doesn’t have empathy. Just as some may cry more frequent than others, each of us reacts differently when we witness a crying person. Here are a few tips you can try in those situations.

  1.  Know that crying is not an indication of whether a person is weak or that he is having an emotional breakdown. People react to different events differently.
  2. Pause. This may feel uncomfortable during the first few seconds when you witness someone crying. Pausing allows the person to decompress and feel better, and therefore, pausing can be the best thing you can do at that moment. Often after the person stops crying, she will figure out herself what the next step is.
  3. Remember this is one of the most precious time to establish a deeper connection if you choose to do so. The person who is crying has chosen to show his authenticity to you. This is a great opportunity to understand the person better and form a closer relationship.

What to do if you are a crier?

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, advises us to bring our whole self to work. Humans, by nature, are emotional beings. Therefore, bringing our whole self to work means that we will occasionally cry and that it’s okay to cry at work. Sheryl, herself, cried at work, and is still a successful effective leader in her organization.

I recently attended a Women Leadership Conference, in which I am one of the panelists for the Negotiation Strategy session. One of my co-panelists told us: whatever you do, do not cry in a negotiation session. As I listened to this, I felt uneasy. It’s because I have tried all different methods in the past, from mindfulness breathing, to thinking positively, to picturing a happy image, and smiling to stop myself from crying in some situations, and it has never worked. After a while, I concluded that to be most effective in anything, including in negotiation, I must embrace my personal style and bring my best personal style to the table. And, if my whole self and personal style includes a lot of crying, so be it. Forcing myself to be someone who I am not always backfires.

In summary:

As a human being, we are emotional by nature. We love, we laugh, we cry. Often time, we choose to hide our sad emotion in public because of the stereotypes and stigmas around it. When we were growing up, we might have been told by our parents and friends that we should not cry in public. Although those advices were given with good intention, they may not work for all of us and in every situations. We are created differently, have different backgrounds and experiences. Each of us has our own unique personality. The best way we can contribute to the world is to be our unique self. As such, it is okay to cry in public and at work. When you put your heart and soul into something, it’s unavoidable that you will cry, either with happy tears or with sad tears, when our effort succeeds or fails. Choosing to show our sad emotion requires a lot of courage, and it will lead to better connection, better relationship, and better team work.

I hope this article gives you some ideas, and tips and encourages you that it’s okay to cry and be your authentic self in life, at work or at home.

With loving heart,

Thanh Nguyen

 

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IT’S ALRIGHT TO CRY LYRICS (It’s Alright To Cry)

It’s all right to cry

Crying gets the sad out of you

It’s all right to cry

It might make you feel better

 

Raindrops from your eyes

Washing all the mad out of you

Raindrops from your eyes

It’s gonna make you feel better

 

It’s all right to feel things

Though the feelings may be strange

Feelings are such real things

And they change and change and change

 

Sad ‘n’ grumpy, down in the dumpy

Snuggly, hugly, mean ‘n’ ugly

Sloppy, slappy, hoppy, happy

Change and change and change

 

It’s all right to know

Feelings come and feelings go

It’s all right to cry

It might make you feel better

 

{Spoken}

It’s all right to cry, little boy

I know some big boys that cry too

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