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What is a tear worth?

If you’re a public figure, like the president of a country, it can mean a major shift in approval ratings. And we’re all public figures with approval ratings, aren’t we? Sometime or another we will all look into the eyes of one or more people whose approval matters to us, and we will ask them to believe when we tell them how we feel.

It might happen in a boardroom, in front of press cameras, or face-to-face with the most important person in your life.  Someday, your ability to control what your body says is in your heart will become vital to your future success – in business, in love, in life.

Will your conditioning keep you from being believed?

I’m not going to speculate whether or not Obama’s tears over the killings in Connecticut were faked. I don’t care. Not because his feelings don’t matter, but because I don’t believe tears shed (or not shed) are indicative of the sincerity of a heart.

The people expected tears. He tried to give them tears.

I’ve seen people stare into the distance with not a drop of moisture showing, even though I know their hearts are shredded and their pillows will be soaked before morning. I’ve seen people cry in public and gloat in private because their superb acting got them exactly what they wanted. I’ve watched people cry in wrenching sobs and silent waterfalls, and some, but not all, were actors onstage while I stood in the wings ready to adjust costumes or touch up makeup when the scene was over.

I’ve seen crying, and I’ve seen sorrow – and they weren’t always walking hand in hand.

Examine, if you will, the stereotypes about displaying feelings. What is the first “recording” that comes to mind when you imagine a girl, let’s say a 14 year-old, crying? Words of comfort and concern? Now switch your picture to a 14 year-old boy. What do you think he would hear? If the movie title Boys Don’t Cry, or the old adage “take it like a man” comes to mind, you aren’t alone.

Here’s what I’ve observed: girls cry because it serves them better than showing anger. Boys don’t cry because people make fun of them. Girls cry when they’re angry, boys hit when they’re sad.  Nothing to do with being from separate planets, just natural response to feedback and conditioning.

Now let’s time warp forward. Our 14 year olds are now 40 year olds. Or 50 year olds.

In the workplace, women who cry are considered “normal” but not “promotable.” Men who cry are considered… well, probably unstable.

In the workplace, a man who displays anger is considered “normal” and possibly even “powerful.” Women who display anger are considered…. Well, I’m not going there. I don’t even call my dog that name.

Speaking of conditioning – I grew up with a father who believed everyone should be able to control their feelings. Men, women, boys and girls. When I cried I often heard, “Stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” I’ll bet a good number of you heard that one too. It’s taken me years to allow myself to show tears naturally. Conditioning.

While the hubbub over Obama’s tears (or lack thereof) got me thinking – this post isn’t about crying or the difference between boys and girls or men and women.

It’s about conditioning. About how we’re conditioned to play a role instead of speak our hearts. About how deep is our conditioned fear of showing something other than the Hollywood director’s version of what we feel, or what we think we’re supposed to feel.

My father didn’t cry easily.  Every time I saw him cry it left a mark on my soul. But if I believed he only felt deeply on those times I saw him cry, I would believe him to be nearly inhuman. And that isn’t how I remember my father at all.

He followed his conditioning. I cannot say it served him well. Which causes me to ask what conditioning I’m still following. And whether it serves me well. Or not.

I’m conducting my examination of how my conditioning does or does not serve me by starting with one key principle – any conditioning that requires me to be other than what I truly am, or that causes me to feel less because of what I truly am, does not serve me well.

What would your criteria be?



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