I’m a crier. I can’t help it. When I’m overwhelmed by sadness or anxiety, I can’t hold back my tears. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve apologized while crying, trying to explain that I’m actually okay. And you know what? It embarrasses me. I still feel a sense of shame for reacting with tears, even though there’s nothing I can do to stop them, even when the situation absolutely calls for them. [Note: This doesn’t mean I cry for no reason, it just means where others might react to bad news with a stoic expression, I cry.]
Why can’t we let our heroes cry when the situation calls for it?
Is there a way for crying to be a sign of strength rather than weakness?
These questions have been on my mind lately.
When I was in high school, I distinctly remember mocking Greek heroes like Odysseus and Achilles for crying. How could these strong, powerful men cry?
For example, Achilles (the best Greek warrior) cries at the very beginning of the Iliad because Agamemnon (the Greek leader) has taken his war-prize Briseis. But he doesn’t just cry. He cries to his mother! I thought this was ridiculous, but that’s because I didn’t understand the stakes for Achilles and what losing Briseis meant. It wasn’t about the girl. It was about honor. Achilles fought in the Trojan War knowing he was going to die, but the promise of eternal fame and glory motivated him to fight. Then Agamemnon came and took away a physical symbol of this honor and glory, Briseis. So, yeah, his whole reason for fighting and eventually dying had been taken from him. Of course he was upset.
Back then, I didn’t appreciate this. It seemed like Greek heroes were always crying over one thing or another and teenage me rolled her eyes. In so many books and movies I had encountered at the time, men didn’t cry. Not all, of course, but crying definitely skewed female. Then why were all these Greek heroes constantly crying in the Iliad and Odyssey?
In college, my Ancient Greek professor finally shed some light on this conundrum. Apparently, the Greeks had this concept of “crying one’s fill,” as she put it. Basically, crying was the appropriate coping mechanism for certain events. These Greek heroes were doing what was right and appropriate under the circumstances. There’s actually been some scientific research showing that crying releases endorphins, which, in turn, make one feel better. Crying serves a biological purpose, and that’s something I think should be embraced.
There will always be those characters who process emotions without much external expression, but tears at appropriate times are nothing to be ashamed of. So, let your heroes cry if the situation calls for it. Male, female, alien, whoever.
Unless those aliens don’t have tear ducts. That might be an insurmountable hurdle.