Please Explain: Crying

Friday, April 04, 2008

Get out your tissues - Please Explain is all about crying. What are tears made of? How did crying evolve? Is it a uniquely human phenomenon? Does it have health benefits? Vassar psychology professor Randy Cornelius has been developing an evolutionary theory of weeping that focuses on tears. Tom Lutz, director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for Performance program at UC-Riverside Palm Desert, is the author of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears.


Randy Cornelius and Tom Lutz

Comments [26]

Fletcher from Westchester

It seemed the point made by the last guest on the program was completely missed - that she abandoned her father precisely when she should have stayed with him, could have attended him. I found her story very touching, and wanted to thank her for telling it. The slippers fit perfectly, and he wept.

Apr. 04 2008 05:51 PM

Yes, MG, I feel that there's a hormonal element to this--since I reached menopause, I want to cry at every stupid thing. It's a big change, very different than I was before.

Apr. 04 2008 02:01 PM
Robert from Bergen County

As I am watching "John Adams" tears are coming to my eyes. I wonder if, in this case, there are parallels between the birth of a child and the birth of a nation.

Apr. 04 2008 02:00 PM
Diana from NYC

Hi Leonard,

Cortázar has this cronopio on Instructions to cry

Putting the reasons for crying aside for the moment, we might concentrate on the correct way to cry, which, be it understood, means a weeping that doesn’t turn into a big commotion nor proves an affront to the smile with its parallel and dull similarity. The average, everyday weeping consists of a general contraction of the face and a spasmodic sound accompanied by tears and mucus, this last toward the end, since the cry ends at the point when one energetically blows one’s nose.

In order to cry, steer the imagination toward yourself, and it this proves impossible owing to having contacted the habit of believing in the exterior world, think of a duck covered with ants or of those gulfs in the Strait of Magellan into which no one sails ever.

Coming to the weeping itself, cover the face decorously, using both hands, palms inward. Children are to cry with the sleeve of the dress or shirt pressed against the face, preferably in a corner of the room. Average duration of the cry, three minutes.

Julio Cortázar, Cronopios and Famas.

Apr. 04 2008 01:57 PM
tom from new york city

Catharsis is certral to crying. The movies mentioned are not unlike the Greek Tragedies that were engineered to bring about a catharsis:a physiological and psychological function.

Apr. 04 2008 01:56 PM
Georgette Victor from Sunnyside, Queens

Is there any connection between the inability to smile easily and the inability to cry easily?

Apr. 04 2008 01:56 PM
Mo Mejia from nyc

Leonard, thank you. Nice show, you are funny. "it was the subtitle" good one I cried of joy.

Apr. 04 2008 01:55 PM
TG from Joisey

What about how you might find yourself laughing after crying?

Apr. 04 2008 01:55 PM
Jay Reilly from Bellmore, LI

Its that moment when Stan Laurel thinks of the wooden soldiers that I cry. I'm a 52 year old man and it still gets me!

Apr. 04 2008 01:54 PM
MG from NYC

What about the increased tendency to cry when pre-menstrual? Is there a hormonal component?

Apr. 04 2008 01:54 PM
Maya from Brooklyn

Confession: If I need to cry but can't "get started", I put on the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof.

Wow, I'm glad I got that off my chest. I feel like I should submit this to Post Secret or something....

Apr. 04 2008 01:53 PM

I can't believe your panelists don't understand that tears are part of waste elimination from your body. Crying more easily because your hung over is your body's way of eliminating what ever you've introduced to your body by drinking booze.
Am I so completely off the wall that they say there's no research. ?

Apr. 04 2008 01:53 PM
Katherine from manhattan

What about crying in your sleep? Crying while dreaming?

Apr. 04 2008 01:51 PM
Kate from NY

Extreme Makeover Home Edition, ick. That's a show where they just shamelessly milk the waterworks for all they're worth. It's like they don't trust us to have an emotional response on our own, they really have to grind it in our face, CRY NOW, THIS IS REALLY TOUCHING!! Shows like that strike me as phony and leave me cold.

Apr. 04 2008 01:50 PM
lynn from NJ

Why do people (me) cry at the accomplishment of others?
people that beat all odds, standing ovations, etc.

Apr. 04 2008 01:49 PM
donna from brooklyn

I am currently in a relationship with an argentine who speaks little English. I speak some Spanish but don't have sufficient fluency to express complex feelings. I have been struck by how often I find myself in tears which is VERY unusual for me (even though I am female!). this discussion is really interesting...

Apr. 04 2008 01:46 PM

Why does my voice go all high and squeaky when I cry? It's got to be a physical change, no?

Apr. 04 2008 01:45 PM
upper west sider (psychotherapist)

Crying is an attachment behavior (as is laughing)--Judith Kay Nelson, a psychoanalyst, has written on these behaviors. This would explain why seeing a person or animal in pain would stimulate a crying response whereas just hearing about a tragedy (e.g., Rwanda massacres) wouldn't. But I cried after seeing Hotel Rwanda!

Apr. 04 2008 01:45 PM

Its amazing to me to hear people talk about the emotional body as if it is something alien to their own beings.
Emotions have gradients like color. Rage at one polarity and terror at the other. Grief is in the middle so of course it will have shades of the other two. To speak of crying as only a function of illiciting response from others shows how separate science and people who observe emotion are from the actual experience they are studying. This discussion is framing emotion as if it is more a burden or a clever manipulation rather than the enlightening process of being that can bring us to understanding ourselves and others. Imagine having only mind and intellect without any guidance from emotion.
Just one more note people who cry often have a backlog of emotion that they need to process. And the emotional body is looking for any opportunity to find release.

Apr. 04 2008 01:45 PM
Kate from NY

I find that I cry easily at commercials, movies, plays, books....fictionalized sadness. But like the caller just said, I stand stone-faced at funerals. It's like the sadness of reality doesn't affect me as much.

Apr. 04 2008 01:43 PM
Sue from North Salem, NY

I rarely cry from sadness, but when I laugh the tears flow copiously.

Apr. 04 2008 01:40 PM
TG from Joisey

We cry when we are overwhelmed and are at a loss at how to deal with the situation. When our usual methods of dealing no longer work.

Apr. 04 2008 01:38 PM
Tony Bruguier from San Jose, CA

It is not socially acceptable to cry for men. Is it more socially acceptable somewhere else?

Apr. 04 2008 01:38 PM
Carol Scudder from Brooklyn

I am an actress, and have noticed that when I cry "in a role", even if I do it over and over in rehearsal, my face, red eyes etc. clear up quickly. When I cry in "real life" it takes much longer for my face to get back to normal. Interesting, huh?

Apr. 04 2008 01:37 PM
sandy from Newport Beach, CA

My sister had her wisdom teeth removed and was placed under general anethesia - when they woke her up after the procedure - she woke up bawling her eyes out. What was happening?

Apr. 04 2008 01:22 PM
James The Giant Peach from Park Slope

sometimes I cry when I'm really angry at someone. Why is that?

Apr. 04 2008 01:22 PM

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