A Look At Life: Crying

11th May 2012

Why Are We Weeping?

Heather Harris

The British stiff upper lip is drooping. Where once we were renowned for our no nonsense approach to diversity and our emotional retardation, we’ve now become a nation of blubbers.

There’s not a dry eye in the house on a Saturday night. Hour upon hour of reality TV programmes encourage us to weep alongside the sobbing contestants whose respective dreams are trashed for public enjoyment. When musical legend Tom Jones turned on the waterworks on BBC’s The Voice and the London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone wept with his head in his hands at a film of his achievements, I thought: enough is enough; something must be done to turn the tide.

It’s far too easy to trace it all back to 31 August 1997. Lady Diana’s death in a Paris tunnel did indeed bring with it an unprecedented wave of sodden hysteria. Even the then Prime Minister Tony Blair was barely able to utter that famous ‘People’s Princess’ line before dissolving. It’s funny how previous PMs Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill both managed to avoid sobbing in the cabinet office when they announced the start and end of the Second World War.

But that’s the thing: Chamberlain and Churchill they were from a different era, an era when a firm handshake sufficed for most social interactions and you only hugged small children and animals.

In her 60 years on the throne, the Queen has epitomised this emotional reserve but ironically it was on her that the media turned when her people wept buckets at the gates of Kensington Palace. She was criticised for being ‘cold’ and ‘out of touch’ with the feelings of her nation.

Suddenly, stiff upper lips were out and public displays of emotion were in – and in all walks of life. Where once the sight of a footballer crying made headlines (who can forget Italia 1990 and red-eyed Paul Gascoigne?) now sporting podiums are regularly drenched with tears.

The first few bars of the National Anthem seem to set most of them off. Come July and the 2012 Olympics, our (in)famous drought could be solved over 16 days with a few strategically placed water butts next to the winners (and all those plucky Brits that just miss out on a medal!).

My husband even wells up when he watches sport and admits bursting into tears all over the total stranger who stood next to him in the stadium as Johnny Wilkinson dropped that kick to win England the 2003 Rugby World Cup. He was an emotional wreck when our daughter crossed the line in pole position in her infant egg and spoon race.

Brass band music starts him off too, especially the first few bars of ‘Jerusalem’, and he was banned from speaking at his own 40th party for fear of drenching the first two rows of guests.

Strangely, his mother tells me that he never cried when he was growing up, even when almost decapitating himself with next door’s lawn strimmer. He held it in because that was expected. Big boys didn’t cry.

Roll on a few decades and all his pent-up childhood tears now spill out at the merest hint of sentiment.

And apparently this does make him a better person. All the problem pages warn of the dangers of ‘bottling it up’, and parents are encouraged to offer a ‘shoulder to cry on’ for our stress-filled teenagers (if they haven’t already wept over their school’s resident counsellor).

The fact is that there must be a middle ground, somewhere between my own mother’s approach to sadness – ‘go for a brisk walk and remember there’s always people worse off than you’ – and the five hours of celebrity self flagellation on Red Nose Night. (A shock, actually, to see that some of their faces can still crumble despite the injections…).

It would be – you guessed it – a crying shame if we felt that we could never show our feelings but there is a time and a place. Genuine emotion is spontaneous and uncontrollable; it can’t be turned on and off like a tap – or a TV rejection buzzer.

And on 2 June just watch the Queen show us all how it’s done – a regal wave and a cheery smile from her, and some fervent flag waving from her subjects. Quite enough emotion for one day…

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