I don’t know if it is because I grew up in Texas or something else, but I learned at a young age that I had power and that that power came in only two forms – 1) my emotions and 2) my sex appeal. This power could be used to manipulate situations like getting out of speeding tickets or making people switch to being on my side instead of against me.
I also don’t know when crying for intentional purposes became separated from an expression of emotion. I do know that I have been told over an over again that I should never cry from an emotional place because men don’t cry therefore I don’t cry. I learned to compartmentalize emotional expressions so that I limit my emotional reactions. However, no matter how hard I have tried, there have been enumerable times where I felt a sense of robotic lack of emotion yet found my face wet. It is as if the stuffed down emotions just begin to leak out of my face. It has taken years of conscious self reflection that I have found the strength in my own vulnerability and the clarity of being emotionally available to myself and others.
When reading, Piero Ferrucci’s “Beauty and the Soul: The Extraordinary Power of Everyday Beauty to Heal Your Life,” I was struck by a story about how the beauty of nature always shows up. Ferrucci described tiny mushrooms that grow on the molding of his bathroom door frame, flowers growing in cracks of sidewalks, and animals walking across paved streets. The idea that nature will show up no matter what is built seems similar to how emotions can be felt by others if not one’s self no matter how much they are suppressed, stuffed, or ignored. Out emotions find a way to make themselves known, seen, expressed, lived.
Fear of having an emotional reaction often builds in me high levels of anxiety and lead to tears. Sometimes tears are authentic and true, and at other points my tears can themselves be frightening as I cannot seem to locate their source. However, when paying attention to dynamics surrounding me, when I, as a white person, white woman, white queer woman, begin to cry I see the impact on others. I see the cumulative impact inauthentic tears have on others and how my tears can dramatically change the focus of a conversation or the energy in a room. Moreover, my tears often lead to others rescuing me or attempting to care and support me. This shift in a shared space can also have an impact on others rooted in authenticity.
Lastly, I grow more and more concerned when I hear other white women state that they “don’t want to be the crying white woman.” The intent here is to not be manipulative with our tears while also not knowing how to reconnect our own emotional availability to our emotional expressions. To ensure we aren’t having a negative impact on others, we still don’t make room for our emotional maturity. Without space to cry from an authentic experience, the cycle repeats itself and the feelings leak out unconsciously.
We much consciously express our emotions and engage in multi-faceted conversations with others so that we can listen to one another – share together – and sit with our fears and our tears. Together we can understand our emotional reactions, patters, and behaviors, and build authentic conversations.
Jessica Pettitt is the “diversity educator” your family warned you about. Through teaching, writing, and facilitating tough conversations, she has figured out how to BE the change she wants to BE. Now it is your turn!
As she travels around the country, you can catch up with Jessica on: