By Rachel Anne Goodman
What happens when people cry in public? If “being emotional” is a sign of weakness, perhaps we are losing one of the most beautiful signals of human connection.
First, let me confess I am very new to the world of Emotional Intelligence as it is named and practiced all over the world. Once I started to become more aware of how I was handling my feelings, especially in public; especially the ones I am less comfortable sharing, something interesting started happening. After years as a radio journalist, I’ve recently started working for Six Seconds, the Emotional Intelligence Network. As for many people, this connection was leading me to tune in to the airwaves of my emotions, getting better reception, choosing which channel to listen to, and which emotions might need less volume. Here’s what happened:
Lately I’ve been lecturing my college journalism students about being objective, keeping one’s feelings out of a news story, a normal tenet of newscasting in our oddly pain-filled-but-emotionless news media. This week I began a new unit on features. They allow for a broader range of expression than hard news. I played my class a story titled “My So Called Lungs”, an NPR radio diary by Laura Rothenberg a 23 year-old woman with Cystic Fibrosis, (CF) a genetic lung disease which rarely lets its carriers live past 20.
Laura kept an audio diary for two years. As I heard Laura’s whispering voice, showing us around her hospital room, sharing her close friends who had died at 14, 15, 20, and her description of trying have a normal student life, I felt tears pricking my eyelids. I breathed. I stared at the floor. I thought: “I am going to cry in front of my students”(anxiety), “that’s embarrassing” (shame, blushing), “I’m supposed to be the grown up in the room. I’m the authority figure.
Will I lose their respect?” (self-doubt) and “I am so moved and this is why I love radio” (delight).
As women, we get hammered with messages about being gritty, tough, and infallible so as not to appear “soft” or “irrational”. In Iowa, a woman candidate for U.S. Senate ran and won on her record as a gun-toting, hog-killing warrior. Remember the flap about Hillary Clinton crying, or maybe she just had something in her eye or was getting a cold? Sheesh.
I think of my friend Jeff, whose daughter Tess has CF. She is 20 and living her dream of being a pop singer, embracing life as hard as she can. I have always looked up to Jeff as a fellow writer and parent dealing with something no dad should have to face. He’s not afraid to cry about all his daughter has had to endure. If he could cry in public, so could I. I could give myself permission to be more fully human – for him, for all of us parents as we struggle through life and sometimes face death. And so I did, and it felt good.
“Is she still alive?” my students asked anxiously, as the story ended. Instead of answering, I just played them the epilogue, “Remembering Laura” narrated by producer Joe Richman. He gave Laura the final word on her last weeks as an adult in her own apartment with her own boyfriend, coming to terms with death, and even writing her own memorial at age 22. She did it in her own words, on her own terms.
It is one of the most mature young voices you will hear. Full of life, of death, of joy, of sorrow. Of the richness of emotion that makes life worth living.
It seemed only fitting that I try to be as mature as she was, and give her the tears she, my students, and really all of us deserve.
Rachel Anne Goodman is a journalist, teacher and communications professional for Six Seconds who lives in California.
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