Laughter, Weeping, and Crying

This post may be of interest particularly to my friends in the dramatic arts, but who’s not interested in drama?

Observe that people rarely cry or weep in the heat of battle. It just would not have been practical for the mind and body to have been designed that way. If a warrior sees his comrade slain alongside him, he cannot very well continue to fight if his body convulses in sobs and his eyes water. But after the battle, he will weep for joy at the victory he had feared he might not attain, and he will weep for the loss of his comrade who did not live to see it, and he will laugh at the smallness of his enemy compared to himself.

Here’s another example: A mother discovering her child injured may shriek and scream, but rarely will she shed tears; rather, she will rush into action. Only after handing off the child to a doctor, for instance, when there is nothing left for her to do, will she break down in sobs— whether or not the child is all right.

In my judgment from personal experience, the actions of laughing, weeping, and crying are discharges of energy that had been summoned for action (physical and/or mental); the energy is discharged once it is realized that there is no action to take.

If laughter were put into words, they would be: “I must deal with this” followed by “All that for that? Ha, ha.” Or: “Much ado about nothing.”

If weeping were put into words, they would be: “I fear for that which I value, and I must do something” followed by “But there is nothing to be done.” Or: “Much ado, but nothing to do.” Weeping is a call to arms followed by the realization that the battle is over, that the value is already won or lost. If the value is lost, the tears will be sad. But if the value is won, the tears will be joyful. Often, since even successful battles often have casualties, there will be a mixture of joy and sadness.

A combination of laughter and tears says: “Much ado about nothing, but I had truly feared it was something.” Consider this example: A missing child is found playing in his tree house.

Weeping is not necessarily sad, as laughter is not necessarily joyful.

Consider a mother at her daughter’s wedding. For twenty years or more, in every crisis, the mother has protected this child. When the child was sick, the mother worried. Now, at this milestone event of marriage, it is natural for the mother to have fleeting memories of the child’s life, including times she worried for the child, and to feel the worry again. And then she realizes: no worry or help is necessary. The mother has succeeded in her twenty-year quest. And then the energy that the worry had summoned can be channeled to other emotions—so that she can enjoy fully the achievement of her dear value: the welfare of her child. Thus, she weeps the tears of joy.

In my experience, tears of joy are an exquisitely pleasurable physical sensation; spiritually, they are a means of experiencing the achievement of values—of experiencing the determination to achieve them in the face of danger and uncertainty, combined with the serenity of knowing that the values have been achieved.

Not let us compare weeping with crying. Weeping is the shedding of tears. Crying is weeping plus the letting out of voiced sound—a cry. At weddings, there is often weeping but seldom crying, unless there is a jilted lover present.

While weeping requires two conditions—the summoning of energy for action and the realization that no action is possible—crying requires a third condition: denial. The cry, the voiced sound, is a cry of “No!”

(I’ve heard it said that Ayn Rand thought that crying contains a “No,” a protest. But I cannot cite a source for that attribution, and I don’t know whether she said more on the subject.)

If crying were put into words, they would be: “I fear for that which I value, and I must do something. But there is nothing to be done. No! But yes.”

In other words, denial alone will not make one cry. In order for crying to occur, the denial must not be working so well. The denial must be there (along with the energy that the denial requires), but so must be the acknowledgment of the loss. Both of these conflicting elements must exist together.

Thus laughing, weeping, and crying all require a combination of conflicting elements. Simply being happy will not make one laugh, and simply being unhappy will not make one weep or cry.

As dramatic artists know, an actor’s laughing, weeping, or crying is not necessarily the best way to make others laugh, weep, or cry, and is certainly not the only way. For example, a hero coming to the rescue may make other characters and the audience weep for joy. The hero is not weeping, because he needs his energy for rescuing. The others weep because the energy they were using for fighting is no longer needed; the hero is fighting for them.

I would be happy to hear whether your own experiences support or do not support my thinking on this subject, and I welcome your own thoughts on the matter.

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