Where does hope end and where does deception begin

Extreme feelings (2/2)Sow tears, reap hope

Whether out of grief, joy or pleading need: When we cry, emotional impulses become physically visible. In all cultures there are situations when tears seem appropriate - and a greater number of times when they should definitely be suppressed. Modern psychology has added a new scientific orientation to the soul teachings of the past. It is now clear how the composition of onion tears differs from that of real emotional tears.

There are also plenty of statistics and studies on crying and its effect on those who cry and on bystanders. There is, however, no firmly established tear theory. The hike through tear valleys and palaces of tears remains a domain of the essay, which can freely pursue the question of why weeping is often associated with hope.

Gesine Palmer, born in 1960, is a religious philosopher with a doctorate. In 2007 she founded the "Bureau for Special Texts" in Berlin and has since worked as an author, funeral speaker and consultant. In March 2020: "A thousand deaths. Talking about grief."



The modern age is getting on in years. It was once considered part of a rationalization process. She was credited with suppressing many of the earlier more common emotions. Above all, however, she has thoroughly researched man and his soul biology. Is it not? Feelings of happiness, endorphins, stress hormones, serotonin and all of that - a look at the research literature will clarify it. Certain apparently simple phenomena turn out to be astonishingly ambiguous and surprisingly unexplored, even if the surface is scratched lightly. Crying is one of these phenomena. More precisely: the emotional crying.

Why are we doing this When do we do this? Does it have a biological function, and if so, what?

It makes sense that tear fluid is important for eye hygiene. But this crying, which can suddenly attack us, what is it good for? And why do onion juice defense tears have a different chemical composition than emotionally induced tears?

We have known that this is so since William H. Frey examined the various tears in the 1980s. Why this is so - so far only speculations exist.

One thing is certain: there has been emotional crying for as long as there have been people. It is not only at the beginning of almost every individual human life - a child is born, it screams with tears in its eyes, the parents or bystanders cry with relief and emotion when a healthy child is really there after nine months of pregnancy! When the mother has survived the labor of childbirth and can hold her child in her arms!

It won't stop at that first cry. Throughout human life, emotional tears accompany the transition from one emotionally meaningful situation to another. It is more or less controlled, more or less often and more or less long - but we cry everywhere. In their visual and written self-testimonies, the different cultures give news of tears. Soon culturally frowned upon - "Lack of affect control!" - soon to be used in a targeted manner:

People who "press on the lacrimal gland" of others

... crying is almost expected on certain occasions, on others it comes as a surprise. The biological and natural science department of the modern, western cultures has done a lot of research, but it knows little more about emotional crying than one of its founding fathers, Charles Darwin. He considered the emotional, which also makes us weep in silence, to be a rather superfluous residue, but mainly assumed an evolutionary, communicative function in the early human horde.

Self-control and releasing tears

One of the most famous tear researchers of today, the Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets, explains a possible evolutionist interpretation of crying: In particular, the silent crying of young children could have had the evolutionary advantage that the children communicated their needs directly to a caregiver, without enemies or attackers Shouting to draw attention to their helpless situation. Such silent crying would of course be a fairly controlled act. And the idea of ​​an ancient horde marching through the woods with toddlers crying silently and thus ensuring their survival always smacks of speculation - and this is always an expression of our own cultural constitution. From a larger cultural-scientific perspective, the biological question itself is likely to be culturally pre-formed. Even within a scientific question in the narrower sense (such as the frequency of crying in women and men), the data collected are interpreted differently from the start. That was already the case in the 19th century.

Whereas Darwin saw the rapid alternation of laughter and crying observed in Australian Aborigines as only the lack of control of an affective remnant, his sociological colleague Émile Durkheim considered exactly the same phenomenon of orderly, communal weeping for the controlled fulfillment of a specific duty of expression on certain occasions. You cry at funeral ceremonies! Everywhere and always.

Something about crying remains uncontrollably ambiguous.

"Crying can be the expression of very different emotions, which clearly distinguishes it from other physiological forms of expression. Tears can not only be caused by pain and sadness, but also by joy, anger, rage, despair, contrition, melancholy, emotion, devotion and other psychological causes Crying therefore occupies a special position among the forms of human expressivity, because - like laughter - although it is a form of expression that is related to language, gestures and facial expressions, it cannot be clearly assigned to either of these two categories within a framework between intentionality and involuntaryness and functions as a gesture that communicates an emotion to the outside world. "

This statement - formulated by the historian Judith Hagen in her 2017 emotional history study of weeping in Roman antiquity - is similarly shared by pretty much all contemporary researchers. In the everyday behavior of modern societies, tears as an emotional expression are only desired or allowed on selected occasions. That is why people usually learn to control their crying as children. Accordingly, if it is allowed, it appears as a relieving act.

Who is crying Hero's tears and mourners

"A man who severely weans tears,
May a hero appear to himself.
But when it longs and roars inside,
Give him a god - to cry. "

In his little quatrain, Goethe first of all expresses something that was taken for granted in everyday thinking of his time until it became unconscious: Heroes do not cry! At best, heroes are weeping for those for whom they were heroes and who accomplished their great deeds. For example from women. If the heroes were to cry themselves, they would not be able to perform great deeds. At least not at the same moment. The accomplishment of heroic deeds requires composure, a careful demarcation of inside and outside. The hero has a petrified face while fighting. For the fight he has to avoid Holderlin’s "soft tears", which could extinguish the eyesight, he has to prevent his heroic features from dissolving into tears and swelling of the mucous membrane. Accordingly, those who allow themselves to cry emotionally among heroes have to expect ridicule in most cultures:

"So why did you cry, Patroclus? As small and delicate as a girl."

In Homer's heroic song Iliad, the demigod Achilles greets his beloved companion Patroclus when he tells him "shedding hot tears" about how hard the Greeks had been defeated in battle. As is well known, Patroclus then goes into battle with Achilles armor and perishes in it - ridicule as the instigator of dubious heroism.

Of course, when Achilles heard of the death of his beloved companion, his pain was expressed in lamentation: "He cries terribly upwards". The divine mother of the hero hears it, takes over - crying is contagious! - "she sobbed out loud now" and hurries over. However, when the mother asks the hero, "Dear child, what are you crying?", It is pure care, without any trace of ridicule. In the Iliad, there follow tearful dialogues and Achilles' decision to make use of his heroic qualities and to go into battle. He not only threatens the wives of the enemy with tears and terrible lamentations for their fallen husbands, but also his own mother: She will see his death and have to endure all of her divine immortality for a long time, i.e. forever.

The division of labor between men and women practiced in this epic is repeated through the cultural histories of the continents in infinite variations up to the beginning of modernity and possibly even beyond its end: the tears of men are quickly transformed back into heroic deeds.

Men are only allowed to cry in exceptionally tragic and conflictual transitional situations. In the long run it will be worried by women. Mourners at funeral services can already be seen in Egyptian art, with tears on their faces, hair open and arms stretched up. There are similar representations of burial scenes in Greek, Etruscan and Roman art. And even today one can hear reports of deeply rooted, village traditions in Europe - for example in Romania - which testify to how seriously the duty of women is taken to mourn the deaths of heroic and very simple deaths. This seems to fit in with the finding that women cry more often than men, even in modern societies.

Namely 30 to 64 times a year, and thus up to four times more often than men who cry 6 to 17 times a year.

Likewise in pretty much all cultures, crying turns into song and song turns into crying, there is a fatality to complain about. And tears, emotional tears, don't just flow at the beginning of every human life - they also flow at the beginning of art. Christian Kaden, for example, reports on the chants of the Kaluli in Papua New Guinea, in which uncontrollable crying is formalized and shaped via bird imagination and sound imitations. In his essay "Weeping as Singing" he writes:

"A [transformation] occurs in the lament for the dead, yelab, which only women are allowed to sing. With her, the respective singer moves from an unstructured emotional discharge to a disciplined stanza design. With this she approaches the birdlike in her spiritual constitution. Crying becomes singing . "

The crying is not only translated into singing and cultivated by him. Ever since Goethe, the suspicion has been valid: A song that does not originate in crying is not good for much either.

"Whoever ate his bread with tears,
who never had the sorrowful nights
sat crying on his bed,
he does not know you, you heavenly powers! "

"Your pearl tears made of glycerine" - pretended crying

Here weeping is still a force of nature that "longs and roars within", as the other Goethe quatrain described it earlier. But that's only one side of the coin - the other bears an image of purposeful crying. In fact, this already has its place in the various rituals of power and justice in Roman times. In her study mentioned, Judith Hagen shows the subtlety with which various historiographies communicate what they think of the tears of the mighty who are shed on this or that occasion. The two modern poles of real tears arising from an inner feeling on the one hand and staged and fake tears on the other are already fully present. In the works of Cicero and Quintilian, who want to guide budding speakers, they are harmonized, but the effort remains recognizable. On the one hand, the staged crying is treated as an integral part of the rhetoric. On the other hand, the authors advise against using it in an exaggerated and "untalented" way. In fact, a crying speaker in the part of a court plea that is supposed to arouse compassion for his client can only have an effect if he is able to feel the simulated feelings for the moment himself.

"Cicero illustrates how the emotions that the speaker perceives as genuine can sweep his audience away. [...] In his view, [it is] not possible for the listener to cry and feel sorry for them if they are not firmly anchored in the speaker To get a judge to sympathize, a defense attorney has to express his pain through outward signs even most of all those involved in the mood he intended. "

Where Cicero and Quintilian warn that anyone who works with deception would only expose himself to ridicule, they also testify: Even in antiquity, crying should be as real as possible, even if it fulfilled a ritual function. When crying is seen as cheap showmanship, when as legitimate emphasis, when as weakness, when as permitted and even desired personal concern - that of course depends on the cultural and historical context. If a judge crying with compassion was still an everyday occurrence in Rome, today we would not take a judge who is incited to tears seriously any more than a lawyer who would have after the tears of the court and, for this purpose, would take her plea on Crowned the end with an outburst of his own. So the cultural context makes a difference in terms of the desirability and permissibility of tears.

"The headlights rose and shone
your pearl tears made of glycerine "

This mockery of the songwriter Walter Mossmann about the artificial tears of the hit industry would not have been formulated like this in Rome due to the lack of spotlights and glycerine - but the substance of the satirical statements about false tears was no less well known than today. To this day there are - not only for professional actors - instructions on how to simulate tears as authentically as possible. Such hypocritical drops, literally referred to as "crocodile tears", are the stuff of all kinds of comedies and tragedies. But doesn't the willingness to fake tears show, above all, the importance that is attached to them? How much do people hope that crying will reveal their inner being and what is true?

Worse than the possibility of creeping social, economic or psychological gain with false tears, worse than the prospect of being cheated with the help of false tears, a very specific state appears to us modern, western people: the one in which we are really no longer cry and therefore no longer be able to cry along with being moved.

Mass grief and the inability to grieve

In her film "For Sama", the Syrian journalist Waab al-Kateab said to her little daughter: "You never cry like a normal child" and she adds: "It breaks my heart." At the same time, while she was shooting this mercilessly realistic documentary about a young family in the hail of bombs in a Syrian city, masses of Iranians roamed the big cities of their country and wept loudly and publicly for the beloved general of the Al ‑ Quds Brigades, Qasem Soleimani, who had been killed in a targeted American attack. The western media audience was fairly certain that the funeral procession in Iran had been staged by the regime. But at the transitions it shimmers even in dictatorships. Who really wanted to decide from the outside whether the tears that were shed in 2011 for the great North Korean leader Kim Yong-il weren't real, emotional tears after all? Tears that can arise between people when they mourn a loss together? And isn't the loss of an incarnated fantasy of omnipotence like that of General Soleimani a painful loss, especially for impotent people who jointly project their fantasies of power onto a leader, a reason for deeply felt collective weepiness?

In fact, the two psychoanalysts Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich initially had exactly this kind of grief, as we saw it in North Korea in 2011 or Tehran in 2020, in mind when they attested the Germans an "inability to mourn" after the end of the Second World War.The Mitscherlichs believed that people who would not have gone through this level of mourning for the loss of the Führer would not be able to seriously go through and work through all further mourning processes. This means that the overzealous "coming to terms with the past", which the Germans tackled in the 1970s at the latest, and which have meanwhile advanced far, is more likely to be suspected of being too ritualistic and therefore not heartfelt enough. The phase of mourning for a narcissistic ego ideal and its devaluation in the course of the war defeat should have been followed by a little less self-related mourning for the lost others.

The Germans should have noticed who and what they lost with the expelled and murdered Jews. They should have understood that with the Jewish people they had destroyed a real "love object" in the psychoanalytic sense of the word.

Because in fact the imaginary relationship between the "Western Christian" Germans and their Jewish fellow Germans before the excesses of the Nazi era was comparable to the culturally established relationship between heroic men and complaining women - and was also used by anti-Semites like not only themselves showed on the topos of the allegedly "effeminate" Jew. Some posed as heroes, always won and never cried - the Germans. The others appeared as anti-heroes, never won and accordingly cried very often - the Jews. It is only correct that the most beautiful tear chants came into German culture through the Hebrew Bible. Friedrich Hölderlin's poem "Tears" begins something like this:

"Heavenly love! Tender! If I forget your ..."

If that's not a quote from the most famous tear psalm in the Hebrew Bible, the 137th! Its text achieved national German sales records for weeks and months in the pop song "By the Rivers of Babylon" in 1978.

"We sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept when we remembered Zion."

It is true that in this psalm the "weeping of the overcome" first turns into anger:

"If I forget yours, Jerusalem, my right hand shall wither."

A curse on himself in case the singer forgets his homeland; this is followed by some very tough oaths of vengeance against the enemy. But it is not without reason that the 137th Psalm enters the Jewish, Christian and non-Christian tradition as a celebration of the cleansing and changing power that has always been ascribed to pain and tears. Likewise the famous sentence from the 126th Psalm:

"Those who sow with tears will reap with joy."

It embodies the expression of hope that the Israelites captured in Babylon will return to their homeland. But it has also entered our thinking for hundreds of years - as irrefutable wisdom of the healing, cleansing and the transition to the better marking power of tears.

Make rocks cry yourself

But is the general intuition of the "cathartic" effect of crying correct? Doesn't it rather embody, as Darwin put it, first and foremost an appeal to others? The infant's crying - often loud, energetic crying - makes it clear to the responsible adult that a helpless being is longing here: Longing for closeness, for food, for warmth or cooling, for relief from pain, for relaxation in a community with other people or after being relieved of too much closeness. With its noise, the toddler puts its surroundings under combative pressure. It's stressful. With its tears it touches the adults at the same time - because it reminds them of how it felt when one had not yet banished one's own feelings to the core. Perhaps it arouses an old longing in them too. Because if you are used to functioning at the price of emotional and communicative paralysis, you are missing something. This is particularly noticeable in children - for example in the heartbreaking rigidity of the little Sama in the Syrian civil war, which is fit for survival. The mother wishes for her that her child might cry normally for once.

To be able to cry normally for once.

This is not so easy. The releasing power of crying can be a long time coming, as a report from the end of World War II in East Asia shows:

"In that camp there was also a Japanese inmate who refused to accept the news of the surrender of Japan even after more than a year, refused to believe. [...] Finally, the man was persuaded; the tears fell from his eyes (what is frowned upon in Japan and, above all, was). "

Here as in the psalm, as in the pictures of the Aztecs, who show their ruler surrendering to the Spaniards with huge tears, the motif of surrender belongs to weeping. It remains ambiguous, however. When the handover of rule to a conquering foreign power is reported, the tears of those who admit their defeat signal on the one hand the loss and ask for protection. On the other hand, the angry secondary meaning of tears already indicates that the vanquished may try to empower themselves again at the next opportunity.

If crying is a mostly honest expression of pain, longing, grief and frustration, and often downright failure, there is always an appeal to others to come to the aid of those who express themselves in one way or another. Because of the strength of this appeal, the temptation to fake crying has always been great. However, more for weak people or those who don't mind being considered weak. The following applies not only to people who are gradually out of infancy, but also to those who are defeated in a battle: the more independent a person becomes, the less they would like others to see them in tears. And the more he banishes the tendency to tear "inside", even in greater distress, in order to show himself to the outside world as a powerful, so to speak satisfactory, strong person, whose help others can count on, but whose resistance they have to expect in the event of an attack.

Only in certain constellations does our own heroism become too narrow for us. Then - in love, for example - we long to be overwhelmed by something beyond language that is stronger than our otherwise overriding reason. Even pain that shows itself in tears over an unhappy, unrequited love, is better to us than the rigidity of lonely functioning. A work of art, a song, a view of nature seems "beautiful to cry" to us. And we would not be surprised if the rocks themselves begin to weep in front of this beauty.

"The tears are the visible sign of the release of an inner state, sadness, anger, pain, but also joy and emotion."

... writes Geraldine Spiekermann in her essay "The Tears of Niobe".

"Their appearance marks an emotionally acute and at the same time indifferent situation for the subject, who in the act of crying becomes aware of his own fragility and vulnerability, but above all of his physicality. In pain as in tears, the task of self-control and reasoned thinking takes place , the surrender to the body. Crying is an indication of the inaccessibility of the existence of the body and soul. "

Whether God, or, as with Holderlin, love, or, as in the wars of people and peoples, the next best superiority - what we remember when we cry is always the recognition that we are not heroic or infantile-all-powerful to have. After all, crying itself is still unavailable to us