John Eales

Emo­tions at work

The Australian - The Deal - - News -

I gen­er­ally fall on the side of emo­tions be­ing a con­trib­u­tor towards per­for­mance rather than an in­hibitor of it. But that’s with a caveat. The emo­tions have to be part of the puzzle and sharpen the fo­cus rather than be­ing the whole of the puzzle and dis­tract­ing from the fo­cus.

There is no more charged mo­ment of emo­tion than when some­one sheds a tear. Peo­ple shed tears of joy, tears of sor­row, tears for fears (sorry), tears for pain and even tears in em­pa­thy. In Euri­pedes’ play, The Tro­jan Women, he writes: “How good are the tears, how sweet the dirges, I would rather sing dirges than eat or drink.”

Clearly not all tears cry the same. In fact, there are three types of tears; basal tears, which keep the cornea of your eye lu­bri­cated, re­flex tears, which wash out any for­eign bod­ies or vapours in your eye, and psy­chic or emo­tional tears, those in­sti­gated by an emo­tional re­ac­tion. Bio­chemist Wil­liam Frey dis­cov­ered that while re­flex tears are 98 per cent wa­ter, emo­tional tears con­tain stress hor­mones.

So tears have both a func­tional and emo­tional ap­pli­ca­tion. But it is when the emo­tional power of the mo­ment is ap­pro­pri­ately gal­vanised that they can con­trib­ute to im­proved per­for­mance.

Not that we may par­tic­u­larly ap­pre­ci­ate all those “tear­ful” mo­ments at the time. One of the most pow­er­ful mo­ments of my life was the night my sis­ter died from can­cer. Carmel was 20 and I was 18. While there is noth­ing good about a 20-year-old dy­ing of any­thing, some­thing good came from that des­per­ate time.

I re­mem­ber her fi­nal mo­ments as if they were yes­ter­day, and I al­ways will. With her last breath a tear rolled down her cheek. Some­times a tear falls on the ground, for­ever for­got­ten, some­times it nour­ishes a dream. Her sin­gle tear that night, in uni­son with our own rivers of tears, drove each mem­ber of my fam­ily in dif­fer­ent ways. For many years I thought about it be­fore ev­ery ma­jor chal­lenge I faced or big match I played. My sis­ter had a love of life and rich po­ten­tial which was never re­alised. Here was I with an op­por­tu­nity to live and to achieve. I owed it to her. I owed it to my­self. Her death, while a waste, was not wasted.

It was a dif­fer­ent type of tear that marked the in­de­pen­dence of Singapore. At the press con­fer­ence to for­mally an­nounce the sep­a­ra­tion of Singapore from Malaysia on Au­gust 9, 1965, Lee Kwan Yew, the man cred­ited with mak­ing Singapore the power it is to­day, cried as he lamented the re­al­ity of in­de­pen­dence. An in­de­pen­dence that at the time he nei­ther de­sired nor saw as be­ing the best thing for his na­tion. Lee’s tears were al­most cer­tainly not the rea­son for Singapore’s sub­se­quent suc­cess, but they did have a gal­vanis­ing ef­fect on his peo­ple and are looked upon by many as a sym­bolic mo­ment in the birth of their na­tion.

Some­times tears don’t have an in­stant or ob­vi­ous ef­fect. My friend Paul’s ear­li­est mem­ory is from when he was six years old and his mother was cry­ing be­cause she couldn’t pay the rent. It wasn’t un­til he was about 10 that he bet­ter un­der­stood that she had been cry­ing be­cause they were poor and his mother de­spaired as she could barely af­ford to raise her chil­dren.

Re­flect­ing as an adult, the mem­ory of his mother’s tears drove his de­sire for in­de­pen­dence. He was damn sure that he was not go­ing to be fi­nan­cially re­liant on any­one other than him­self. His mantra be­came, “If this is a game that you win or lose I’m go­ing to win it.”

Tears bear a very spe­cific shape – a unique and beau­ti­ful shape that is in­stantly recog­nis­able – so it’s al­most po­etic that the emo­tions gen­er­ated from tears, when har­nessed use­fully, can shape our lives. They can give us self-in­sight or stim­u­late em­pa­thy for oth­ers. Whether you are a hulk­ing male, a sto­ical mother or a vul­ner­a­ble teenager, they are a valid emo­tion. Whether they were Carmel’s, mine or Lee Kwan Yew’s they can em­power us to help de­fine our fu­ture for the bet­ter.

What are the tears that have shaped your life, for the good and for the bad? I’d love to hear about them.

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