Archive for Sunday, September 23, 2001

9-23 Roger column

September 23, 2001

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He's the chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald. That company does trillions of dollars in bond business every year. Or it did. He said, "I don't know of one of my employees who got down -- zero." And he sobbed. Seven hundred of his workers had gone in. He was late, though; it was the first day of kindergarten for a son.

"I get to kiss my kids," he told ABC's Connie Chung, "but other people don't get to kiss their kids." And sobbed.

At one point, he said, "I've got 700 families," and then continued, "I can't say it. I can't say it without crying." And he reached for the Kleenex.

I remembered the scorn that presidential candidate Ed Muskie faced for his tears on the campaign trail in 1972. They were his political downfall. And I remembered, too, my father's literally putting me on his knee when I was 10 in order to deliver an important message.

Big boys don't cry.

But here was Howard Lutnick and the New York firemen. And they weren't just crying in the way that defeated basketball players cry, with towels wrapped around their heads. They weren't just avoiding eye contact and fighting a lump in the throat. Some of them were bawling shamelessly.

Men today can cry longer and more freely than they could a generation ago, says Bob Minor, a Kansas University professor of religious studies.

But Minor, who recently published a book titled "Scared Straight" about the social roles of men and women, says that men more often vent their anger in response to threats than show their hurt.

Nothing wrong with anger, Minor says. But beneath that anger is a trio of bedrock emotions: hurt, fear and confusion.

Now, the expression of those kinds of feelings isn't forbidden. Just as hugs between men are OK -- if they're not TOO prolonged -- so, too, are men's tears OK -- if they're not TOO plentiful.

They're also OK as long as men return pretty quickly to more conventional expressions of maleness, Minor says.

Howard Lutnick has done that. Since the tearful interview, he's started work on establishing a foundation to aid the families of his murdered employees.

On some special occasions, males are permitted more copious tears -- as when a child dies, for instance. Nevertheless, all in all, men's tears are hemmed in, Minor says.

He believes we've moved pretty fast, as a nation, from mourning to patriotic anger, adding, "One way not to feel your feelings is to act on them."

He's saying, in other words, if you want to feel something, don't act.

Just sit there.

"Do we HAVE to?" we ask. "Wouldn't it be better to DO something to put all this behind us?"

Here's Minor's reply: If we can't feel our own feelings because we rush headlong into action, how, then, can we empathize with someone else's feelings?

It's an excellent question to ask at a time when just sitting still seems difficult, indeed.

-- Roger Martin is a research writer and editor for the Kansas University Center for Research and editor of Explore, KU's research magazine Web site, which can be found at www.research.ukans.edu. Martin's e-mail address is rmartin@kucr.ukans.edu.

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