The video below made the rounds a few weeks back. The reason is obvious once you watch it. The boy’s instructor does a great job of coaching the kid through his struggle, telling him that it’s okay to cry but that he must push through his feelings and persevere toward his goal.
Part of the video’s popularity comes from the fact that there is a lot of confusion about whether men should cry. The assumption that men believe we ought not cry or that we are taught to suppress all emotion in an effort to become no more than macho meat machines is false, but widespread.
Let me clear it up.
The answer to the question of whether it is okay for men to cry is yes. It’s okay.
Men, despite what some may think, are people. People have feelings and those feelings give rise to natural biological reactions, natural physical means of expressing them. Crying is a normal part of human experience. As such, men cry and that’s fine.
Why, then, is this an issue at all? If the answer is obvious, why do we need a blog post to untangle the mess around this question?
Because, while yes is the ultimate answer, it is not alone a sufficient answer.
See, it’s okay for men to cry. But it is not okay for them to cry for any reason, at any time, or to any degree. It’s not okay for us to disregard the effects of our crying.
This idea comes out in the video when the karate instructor encourages the boy to push through his feelings and break the piece of wood with his fist. The older man is encouraging the younger one to disregard his tears and tear through the obstacle in front of him. In short, he reinforces the idea that while it is ok for men to cry, it is not ok for us to be slaves to our feelings.
This is where people get confused. Yes, sometimes boys are told to stop crying. I sometimes have told my daughters to stop crying too. But that isn’t because crying is inherently bad, but because the reasons for the crying are wrong.
It’s okay for a man to cry when he suffers a terrible loss. If his wife, his child, a parent dies, tears are fine. In fact, not crying at those times might be wrong. A man who cries as a result of tragic loss has nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s okay for a man to cry when he’s moved. Everything that is true, good and beautiful should move a man. Sometimes, he responds to such things with deep feelings. If a man is listening to this and starts misting up, that’s not because he’s weak; it’s because he has a soul.
It’s okay for a man to cry so long as he carries on with his duties. If a guy rushes into a burning building to carry out a baby trapped inside, when he bursts back through that wall of flame and smoke with that wee one in his arms, I don’t care if he is blubbering like the fountains at Versailles.
None of that means it’s always okay to cry. The mature man cries for the right reasons, at the right time and to the right degree.
This is what people mean when they tell boys (and girls) not to cry. Telling boys not to cry is just a shorthand way of telling them not to cry wrongly. Rather than an attempt to short-circuit their emotional development, telling boys not to cry is an attempt to shape their characters.
So, some more examples.
It’s not okay for a man to cry when he doesn’t get his way. When the job offer he expected doesn’t come through, when that girl says no, when he looses that Call of Duty Tournament in the first round, that is a time to endure silently and move on. Things don’t always go the way we would like, and people don’t always comply with our wishes. Trying to manipulate people and situations with tears makes a man untrustworthy. Don’t do it.
It’s not okay for a man to cry when doing so would hurt his team. Do you think no soldier ever cries for lost comrades? Of course he does. But, a good soldier does that later, alone or in the company of his counselor or confidante. He does not burst into tears on the battlefield because he knows his show of emotion will endanger others.
This is one reason why men’s crying must be more regulated than women’s. Because men are the leaders of their families and other organizations, uncontrolled emotion of any kind from them weakens the group. For the sake of the group, men, especially those to whom others look for guidance, have to keep it together.
Finally, it’s not okay for men to cry when tears become a means of shirking our duties. Any hint of an attitude suggesting being upset is a legitimate reason to avoid doing what must be done is intolerable. A man who let’s the baby in the burning building die because he is crying from fear is a man who rightly feels his shame. What people really hate isn’t a man who cries, but a coward.
The point of all the exhortations to men not to cry is not really that we should not cry, but that we ought not be weak, fearful, self-indulgent and slothful. The world demands more and we must rise to those demands. The mature man can do this because he controls himself, and knows when it’s time to cry, and when it is time to dry his eyes and just press on.
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