Let the boys be sad

anger boys emotions feelings las vegas shooting men sadness Oct 20, 2017

"Tell the boys they shouldn't be sad."

As part of their coverage of the massacre in Las Vegas NPR profiled the victims of the shooting. One of the men was an off duty police officer who coached boys on a ball team. Someone sent a message to the team:

"Tell the boys they shouldn't be sad. Tell them to use this for motivation."

So much wrong in two short sentences.

Tell the boys they shouldn't be sad. I don't know about you, but when I lose someone who is important in my life (especially when it's a sudden loss), I'm sad. It's natural human emotion.

Here the boys are told they shouldn't feel something. Should is a word that makes no sense with regard to feelings. We feel what we feel Our responsibility isn't somehow to make ourselves feel something else. It's to listen to what we're feeling and to pay attention to what we need to do with those feelings.

Children being told that they shouldn't feel something that they're feeling doesn't keep them from feeling it. It just adds a layer of shame to the feeling.

I was a young child watching the original Jungle Book in the old theater downtown. I don't remember the scene. All I remember is that it was sad. I want to cry, because that's what we do when we're sad.

But somewhere along the way, even at that young age I'd picked up the message that crying at the movies wasn't okay, so I put my white fake fur coat over my head so no one would see me. (Only a child would think that a white fake fur coat over her head would make her less conspicuous.) My mother, not knowing my sadness, got angry and muttered something about not taking me to the movies if I wasn't even going to watch. That did not make me feel better.

I wish I could have known that it was okay to cry at the movies. I wish I could have shown my sadness so that instead of being angry my mom could could have been comforting.

It breaks my heart for any child to be told that they shouldn't feel anything that they feel. It breaks even more for a group of little boys to be told this.

Generations of men have suffered, and taken out their suffering on the women in their lives, because they are told they couldn't be sad. Being sad was a girly feeling, and you didn't want to be like a girl. (Men are allowed to be sad at two times in their lives: When their dog dies and their team loses the championship game.)

The price of that neglected sadness is depression and anger. Many years ago I saw a young man on Oprah who'd been arrested for domestic violence. To his credit, he used it as a wake up call and began doing his own inner work.

"I realized," he said, "that as a man anger was the only feeling I was allowed to have. When I peeled back that layer of anger I discovered lots of other feelings like sadness and fear."

Haven't we limited enough generations of men?

Let the boys be sad.

October 30 look for my podcast on the very natural feeling of sadness - why we need it and what to do with it. In the meantime, check out last week's podcast on anger. You can find them here.