Health & Wellbeing, Psychology, Science

Health & Wellbeing, Psychology

Why do we cry – and what can we learn from our tears?

Why do we cry – and what can we learn from our tears?


Why do we cry – and what can we learn from our tears?

Weeping is informed by everything from culture and identity to social standing – and studying it could help us better understand ourselves

This thickness intrigues me. The longer it takes for these tears to travel down a cheek, the greater the chance that they will be noticed by another person and their message perceived. Tears are a social signal.Tears often serve as a lubricant in the wheels of white supremacy. Many people (including Brittney Cooper and Ruby Hamad) have written about the harm of white women’s tears – how they have contributed to a long history of violence towards black people, indigenous people and people of colour.

That is why I try, as much as possible, to say what tears do. Tears can form an intimate bond between people. They can also create a disgusted separation. Their effect depends largely on the degree to which people share common stories about who they are and how the world works.

Perhaps you have noticed that it is almost impossible to sing and cry at the same time. The throat muscles cannot simultaneously obey the command to shape notes and the command to hold themselves open to maximise oxygen intake (a command that crying provokes unconsciously). This leads me to believe that the opposite of crying is not laughter (those two, I would argue, are sisters), but song. As a poet and as a human living on a planet careering ever more deeply and unevenly into capitalism-induced horrors, I want to attend to both: the moments of singing; the moments when a voice breaks.

The subject rewards that attention. Years into my research, I still found myself learning surprising new ways of understanding crying, physically and metaphorically. For instance, it turns out that the lump in your throat when tears are imminent is not a lump at all. Obeying the imperative to keep breathing through distress, the muscles of the throat work to stay open. When you try to swallow, the muscles resist, creating the sensation of an obstruction. Some people find relief in this fact – that their throat won’t close up, that their body is taking care of them and bringing them much-needed air. What if we could look at crying in the same way – not as a stopping point, but a passageway? What if we could look through crying to understand the abundance of patterns – of joy, oppression, grief, beauty, violence and transformative potential – that tears have the power to reveal?

Read more: The Guardian

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18 February 2020, Tuesday News

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