The band Dawes recently released a very cool song, titled “Everything is Permanent.” I love everything about the song’s melody and lyrics, but the last line of the song is a refrain that has been stuck in my head for days now. In that line, the lead singer, Taylor Goldsmith, who happens to be married to Mandy Moore of This is Us fame, repeatedly asks, “Did you really need to cry or [to] be seen crying?” (at 7:45 of the video below).
At its root, the question drills down into one’s true motivations for crying, and I think the answer to the question “Did you really need to cry?” is a simple “Yes.” In other words, sometimes we cry for the emotional catharsis that crying provides (the “need to cry”), and at other times, we cry because we need to share with others whatever has been the cause for our crying (the need to “be seen crying”) because they have been too blind, self-absorbed, or just plain stupid to see the cause for themselves. I know I’ve been guilty of all three of those catalysts for another’s tears.
The question also forces us to consider the role of the observer of another’s crying. I would suggest that it is a supreme honor to be welcomed to witness the emotional nakedness of another, similar to the honor of witnessing another’s physical nakedness. The trust that either situation of extreme vulnerability places in the observer’s eyes is enormous and should be considered both flattering and sacred. However, it is true that there are those who need “to be seen crying” in order to garner favors, forgiveness, or sympathy from a gullable audience.
The mistake we typically make in relation to the tears of another who “really needs to cry” is to insist that the crier “Don’t cry.” This response, however, is actually a selfish one inspired by the observer’s own discomfort rather than by compassion or consideration for what is best for the one crying. Tears are one of the body’s autonomic responses, meaning they occur involuntarily. Rarely does somebody cry because they want to but because their body, heart, and/or soul require it. The attempt to disallow tears from oneself or others is unnatural and unhealthy. Perhaps, Hootie and the Blowfish expressed this phenomenon best in their song “Let Her Cry.”
As is common for an overthinker like myself, the question the Dawes’ song poses has also led me down another avenue of thought, which is to question my motivations for and the sincerity of many of the things I do or do not do and to ask if my behaviors are genuine or have they merely been poses I’ve taken to gain attention and/or to gain the approval of others.
To that end, I’ve been substituting various verbs in the place of “cry”:
- Did you really need to shout or be seen shouting?
- Did you really need to laugh or be seen laughing?
- Did you really need to pray or be seen praying?
- Did you really need to hate or be seen hating?
- Did you really need to believe or be seen believing?
You get the idea. Feel free to substitute your own verbs.
The French poet, Charles Baudelaire utilized the phrase to “play to the grandstand” in his poem “To The Reader,” published in his collection of poems Flowers of Evil (1857). His point was to emphasize the importance of living genuinely rather than “perform” for those who may be watching and judging our choices and behaviors. Similarly, Henry David Thoreau advised us to live a life of one’s own imagining. Theirs are both wise admonitions but also much easier said than done. I, admittedly, have always been far too concerned with what other’s expect from me and how they might judge me and far too chickenshit not to care.
In the end, the world would be a better place if we could all cry without embarrassment or reservation and experience another’s tears without discomfort or judgement.
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