WSJ [subscription required]. Sue Shellenberger, in her April 26 Work and Family column titled Read This and Weep: Crying At Work Gains Acceptance, writes:

Crying at work has long been seen as verboten. But there’s evidence that a growing number of workers, especially those in their 20s and 30s, see it differently. Some think it’s old-fashioned to hide your emotions. Others are quick to cry over negative feedback. And many find themselves at odds with managers who grew up with a more repressive definition of professional conduct.

crying_manCast my caveman vote for keeping it verboten. Thanks to Opra, Jerry Springer, The View, and loads of other cultural schlock we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that wearing our emotions in public somehow makes things better. It doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse. Carried to its logical conclusion this whole absurd idea is at the heart of much of the social violence and conflict we have. Yes, I know. I’m a caveman. But you tell me, what’s the difference between the crying, sniveling whiner and the disrespected hoodlum who’s about to blow your head off because you happened to look the wrong way? Not much. Both have lost all context for emotional outbursts.

On the one hand, you have some bosses who probably aren’t very good managers and lack people skills (I have worked for some of those.) On the other hand, you have employees who are lousy workers (I’ve been saddled with a few of those.) Many years ago I was a plant manager for a large prepress company. I had a successful track record, had good relations with most of my employees, and had a very productive plant. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone thought I was a great guy, but they were all very happy when the plant went from losing $1 million a year to turning a $500k profit and they got substantial bonuses. And no one was worked to death, no one was abused, no one was treated unfairly. We just identified problems, agreed on solutions, and put them into action. Everyone was involved, and everyone shared the load.

Because of this I was asked to move across the country to take over a plant that was in trouble. I walked into the new plant expecting things to be rather mucked up, but I figured there would be some good people there who could get the job done with the right tools and expectations. What I found was entirely different. I found a plant full of people who wanted to do everything just as they’d always done, even though the plant was on the verge of closing. The slightest suggestion of change was seen as some sort of personal insult:

Gen-Yers — who, it is often noted, are accustomed to lavish praise from their parents — are often ill-schooled in taking criticism and burst into tears at negative feedback, Dr. Twenge says. Kathy Lyle, 55, owner of a Chagrin Falls, Ohio, accounting firm, was dismayed when an employee in her early 30s cried in response to a request to install software on a computer. “When I asked her why, she said, ‘You scare me,'” Ms. Lyle says. Startled, Ms. Lyle told her to pull herself together.

This mirrors my experience — perfectly reasonable, rational requests treated as terrifying challenges. Being deemed a tyrant for merely asking another to do something they haven’t done before. What sort of logic is that? A big problem is we have failed to teach our children how to be good losers, how to accept criticism, how to take a bad performance or mistake and make it a learning experience. For that matter, we’ve failed to teach them anything at all about accepting challenges. The vast majority expect to be praised for little more than turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. As Jeffrey Zaslow write in his April 20 WSJ column The Most Praised Generation Goes To Work:

You, You, You — you really are special, you are! You’ve got everything going for you. You’re attractive, witty, brilliant. “Gifted” is the word that comes to mind.

Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking — by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one “student of the month” and these days name 40.[…]

[…] Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands’ End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation.

And so we have two sides of the same coin — a generation that cries at the slightest negative word or challenge, or shoots you for a sideways glance. Is that really what we want?

It’s not what I want. Sure, there are times when emotion is appropriate, but getting things out in the open is far from a universal cure-all. If your emotions aren’t based in some fact, if you can’t prove your point in some real way, if you don’t actually have a grievance other than something just isn’t fair, then exactly what are you crying about?

Life is not fair, never has been. I’ve tried to teach my children that the dirtiest four-letter word is F-A-I-R. It would be great if life was fair, but it’s not. Some people win, some lose. Some live a long time, some die young. Some get all the good stuff, some slog away in poverty. All we’ve done with this insistence on fairness and self-esteem and gratuitous flattery is teach our children to base their lives on shallow emotion. We haven’t taught them to achieve, to accept challenges head-on, to do the things that generations before have done to be successful.

It’s no wonder we have such social turmoil. It’s what happens when you stop accepting life on its own terms and working to change yourself, instead spending your days in a fantasy-land of fairness and hoping everyone else changes to suit you.