What Do Tears Mean?

Is crying good? Or is it a sign of weakness? What exactly are tears supposed to be? What do tears signify? Although other animals have been recorded wailing at the times of distress, humans are the only primates in the world that shed tears. What is so unique about it? It’s a confounding mystery. Nobody really is certain what it entails. All we know that is crying has two purposes. One: express emotions and two: communicate signals. 

When talking about emotional expressions, humans cry when they are in the need to express distress, sadness, happiness, surprise, or pain. On the other side, it’s used by babies to communicate their signals (as they cannot talk). Hungry? Cry. I want more attention? Cry. This is all that we know there is to crying. Why wasn’t research done on it? Scientists are more focused on the feelings like sadness, love rather than its by-products as tears or butterflies in your stomach. Charles Darwin had gone so as far as to say, “Emotional tears are purposeless.” Was he right? Or was he wrong?

By scientific standards, Darwin might have been correct. There are no scientific evidences proving tears bring happiness in people. Or that tears are good for the mind, body, and soul. But could it be that tears function on a different scale when you think about it in terms of emotions? Let me give you an example. What would you feel if you see a 5-year-old girl cry because you mistakenly pat her a little hard on her back? Would it pinch your heart that you made her sad and feel pain? Definitely, yes, right? Or how do you respond when you look at a picture from the second world war where people were openly crying on the streets to celebrate the end of the vicious war? It makes you feel pleasantly warm, correct? Tears have always helped to group people together and solicit empathy between the community. 

Tears, as far as we know, is one of the truest indicators of authentic emotions because it is hard to fake. Throughout the history, tears have shaken mighty hearts to pursue truth, love, and peace. Even King Ashoka, who killed his 99 brothers to be a king who killed countries after countries in war, was shaken by tears shed by one beggar who demanded his son to be alive. When he realized the sadness he had caused, he became an emissary of Lord Buddha and stepped down that path to pursue peace.

If tears and crying could bring such robust changes, why is it ridiculed in our society? Why do parents scold children when they are crying? Why do friends bully you when you cry openly? Why have tears been closely corelated to weakness? Are people who cry weak? Not only for bringing changes within others, it helps to open yourself up to the world too. It helps you be vulnerable and embrace emotions that are flying out there in the world. Is this feeling of vulnerability truly a weakness? Or is it something which makes a person feel alive? Vulnerability connects you with other human beings. It sets off an emotion of empathy and compassion. Furthermore, although research hasn’t dictated crying is good for emotional well-being, it has definitely hinted towards it. 

Professor Cord Benecke, from the University of Kassel in Germany, had conducted research on this matter. He had surveyed a group of people who said they never cry. At the end of his survey, he concluded that people who didn’t cry felt more angered, enraged than those who did. It definitely shows to us that tears help you express out the emotions that are bottled deep inside within you. It helps you clear out the stress hormones, which, to be mindful, could eat you alive. There is a Nepali proverb which could be translated as: “Your worries can take you to your cemetery.” Isn’t it better to wash it off with tears than suffering the excruciating pain in silence in such cases? Could it not mean something special that we are the only primates who are gifted to cry? Do we really want to be a hotpot of stuffed emotions? Is it tough to shy away from expressing your emotions openly?

So is it that Darwin was right? Is it that the society has been correct to dictate tears are a sign of weakness? Or is it we need to change how society thinks about openly expressing emotions? What might be the correct thing to do? It is something which you, I, and the society needs to think deeply about if we desire for our emotional well-being to improve in coming days.

— Bibatshu, Kathmandu

* This is a submitted post *  

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