By Dan Griffin, Senior Fellow at The Meadows

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
“What? Are you going to cry like a little girl?”
And, of course, the meaningless and obtuse: “Man the f#@$ up!”

Rare is the man who has not had at least one of these epithets hurled at him at some point in his life. We learn very early to stuff emotions down deep inside. We are expected to deny our vulnerability, first and foremost to ourselves, and then to others.

Man Rule #1: Don’t Cry

When I give talks and I ask the audience to help me name The Man Rules—the rules we learn as young boys about how to be a “real” man—98 percent of the time the first rule offered up is “Don’t cry.”

Deep in our social conscious is the idea that a man’s masculinity, or lack thereof, is tied directly to whether he shares emotions and shows vulnerability, especially by crying. There are probably 20 Man Rules built into the one Man Rule of Don’t cry. When I ask my audience to volunteer some of those they invariably they come up with these other offenders:

Don’t show softer feelings,
Don’t be vulnerable,
Don’t ask for help,
Be tough,
Don’t show weakness,
Show no pain,
Don’t let other people in.

The list goes on. And on. The main message: Be a “Real Man” at the expense of your emotional and spiritual self—at the expense of your humanity.

And then we hear these same messages over and over again throughout our lives from our caregivers, our peers on the schoolyard, the kids in high school, and the media. We hear it from men and we hear it from women. We even hear it from our spouses and partners. Even if they don’t mean to reinforce the Rule, our partners can have little to no awareness about how much they are subtly encouraging us to stay shut down.

The Cry Baby in Chief

With all of that noise constantly swirling around in our social consciousness how do we think most people are going to respond to a male leader who openly shows his feelings, especially cries? Mixed at best. 

But yesterday when President Obama, while reflecting on the senseless killings that have taken place since he has been in office, teared up it meant something. This was not just a man—he is the freakin’ leader of the free world!

What exactly are the rules for crying in public when you’re a man? There is no question that attitudes about this particular Man Rule are changing, but they haven’t changed completely. There is most certainly not a consensus that’s it’s okay for a man in a position of power, or any man, to cry. All one has to do is look at the variety of comments made about President Obama or former House speaker John Boehner, who also dared to show emotion in public.

When it comes to this most sacred rule of toxic masculinity, we simply can’t have confidence in knowing how others might respond. In what contexts is crying going to be accepted and respected, when is it going to be given a pass, and when is it going to be mocked and ridiculed?

When sports heroes openly cry after losing the Big Game, you rarely see them mocked for showing their emotions. But, when a president tears up while talking about children who were murdered senselessly… Well, that’s weak! It is certainly not what we want from the leader of the free world. How are we as a country ever supposed to project real strength if we have a little boy in the Oval Office? What is he, The Cry Baby in Chief?

For Crying Out Loud

Of course, there are many who are lauding President Obama for showing a few tears – literally a few tears! It is not like the man broke down sobbing at the podium. However, there are just as many who are pillorying the man for being weak or for manufacturing his emotions for political gain.

I, like Chris Cillizza confessed in his recent Washington Post article, am a crier. I have always been and always will be. I deeply respect a man who allows himself to show that kind of vulnerability publicly whether it is a politician, an actor, an athlete, or Mr. Everyman. Yet, I would be lying if I said I still didn’t have some visceral knee-jerk reaction toward that man at some level, no matter how minute; I may still have judged him as weak. The difference is that I am aware of it. (Most of the time.)

The truth is this is not always how it was. There was a time when men showing their emotions and crying was considered a high form of respect, honor, admiration, and love. Something went drastically wrong and it is not only killing men it is killing all of us. Honestly, I think it is sad that President Obama’s show of emotion is even considered a story. However, that is the state of our society and it is far from relegated to the United States or even Western civilization. The toll this level of emotional suppression takes on men, our relationships, and our lives as a whole is immeasurable. I just hope someday the authentic expression of male emotion and empathy will be truly viewed as strength. I hope one day men are encouraged and supported in truly embracing our full humanity. I hope the day comes when this is not newsworthy.

A Man’s Way to Personal Freedom

If you’re interested in learning more about The Man Rules™ and how they impact your career, your relationship and your life, join me for A Man’s Way™ Retreat at the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. I’ll be conducting four of these 5-day sessions in January, April, July and October. For more information call 855-333-6075.