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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh

When Is Crying A Good Thing?

When Is Crying A Good Thing?

You might wonder how crying can have any relationship to resiliency? I believe you will find the answer in this thoughtful article written by my colleague and friend Susan Fowler. She explores crying not as sadness or despair, but rather as an emotional connection between people. Indeed, if we are to create a resilient organization, a resilient world, it is imperative that we find this connection. Susan suggests that it might as well be… music!

Read and reap.

When Is Crying A Good Thing?

As tears welled up in my eyes, I asked myself, “What’s happening?” I was listening to a guitar ensemble play Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. I was taken aback by the intensity of my emotions to a song I’ve heard hundreds of times. You’ve heard it, too—even if you don’t know it by name—at weddings or in the background at Target.

Accelerated learning studies have shown that listening to Baroque compositions such as Pachelbel’s canon, changes your breathing and heart rate, stimulates both your right and left brain, and creates conditions for enhanced learning. I play the piece during workshops. Over the years, I’ve gifted CDs of Pachelbel’s ubiquitous classic to teens and adults to help them study.

My familiarity with the piece made my emotional reaction even more perplexing, especially given the group playing it: a ragtag group of 12 teenagers just learning to play together as an ensemble. To say there were a few mis-struck strings is an understatement. Yet, the music filled me with a sense of deep yearning. I found myself wondering, for what am I longing? Why do I have tears in my eyes?

Curious, I turned to science. Had I experienced appoggiatura? Appoggiatura is a musical construct that, it is postulated, causes tears when the notes of the song build up tension and then resolves it with a dissonant note. Adele’s music is full of appoggiaturas. I do tear up at Adele’s songs from time to time, but that doesn’t explain what happened listening to the guitar ensemble. Their skills may have created tension, but they hardly resolved it! Besides, I hadn’t teared up to Pachelbel in the past.

My epiphany came during the NCAA Basketball Playoffs. The women of Missouri State made history by ending Connecticut’s 111-game winning streak. The underdog Bulldogs of Gonzaga lost in a valiant effort to the excellence of North Carolina’s men’s basketball program. But, it was watching the video montage accompanied by Luther Vandross singing “One Shining Moment” when my eyes teared up. I wasn’t alone. Grown men admit to choking up during this ritual ending. Television ratings show that millions of viewers don’t change the channel until they watch that video and hear Luther sing.

I realized, these emotions reflect what I write about every day—the three psychological needs required for us to thrive as human beings. One of those needs is for Relatedness. We satisfy Relatedness when we feel that we belong, when we can care about others and are cared about by others without ulterior motives, and when we find meaning and purpose in our everyday experiences.

Music doesn’t create Relatedness or empathy. Rather, music is a vehicle that helps us tap into this fundamental truth: We are all connected. Music transports us to our emotional nature that enables us to get in touch with our humanity.

In her work on resiliency, Eileen McDargh writes about how social competence and empathy are core skills for resiliency. Far from being a statement of fragility or weakness, our desire to be in social communion with others gives us strength.

In “The Quietus” essay by Robert Barry, he beautifully relates a phone call with new age composer Laraaji. Barry writes, “‘Music can suggest a union of souls,’ he said in the midst of our interview. ‘You may not even realize that that’s what you’re feeling. Music can conjure up moods and feelings for the emotional body, and during that experience, a release from either congestion or release from senses of separation is accompanied by tears and crying.’ He called it ‘a coming together.’”

I wasn’t tearing up over Pachelbel’s canon itself, but the music allowed me to get in touch with something more profound—the wonder of 12 hormone-driven teens coming together to co-create something of beauty. Even though I was just watching them, I felt as though I were part of the collective. I found meaning through their music.

When millions of people choke up during the video signaling the end of the NCAA basketball finals, we aren’t responding to competition, or who won and who lost. The visuals combined with music capture the spirit of young people giving everything they have in a socially cooperative effort. More importantly, the video captures us in a communal experience. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the stands or sitting on the sofa, the collective “we” are touched by what the athletes’ sportsmanship, dedication, and authentic expressions of joy and sorrow represent. We come together in celebration of excellence, competence, and the best of humankind. And we feel proud. And hopeful.

Whether we are listening to an off-key group of teenage guitarists or reveling in a video montage of young basketball players while Luther sings “One Shining Moment,” we come together “as one” in experiencing something meaningful.

Coming together. I wonder, would the world be a better place if we all came together to cry more often over things that contribute to the greatest good? Maybe our tears would remind us of a truth that strikes at our very core: We all long to be optimally motivated, resilient, and wholly human beings—together.

Susan Fowler's Why Motivating People Doesn't Work

Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does. Widely respected as one of the foremost thought leaders on the science of motivation, leadership, and personal empowerment, Susan is a globally sought-after speaker and consultant. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her award-winning training designs, including the Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines.

Susan is also the author of the bestselling Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard and Laurie Hawkins; Achieve Leadership Genius with Drea Zigarmi and Dick Lyles; Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard; The Team Leader’s Idea-a-Day Guide with Drea Zigarmi; Empowerment with Ken Blanchard; Good Leaders, Good Shepherds with Dick Lyles; as well as audio programs on mentoring—Fostering Your Careers Most Crucial Relationships and Overcoming Procrastination.

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