Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
Emotional outbursts by public figures are always good for a headline, and so it was this week when Julia Gillard wept as she introduced the disability insurance scheme.
Tearful politicians are always newsworthy. The last time we saw tears in Parliament it was over asylum seeker deaths at sea. Julia Gillard and Anna Bligh both cried over Queensland flood victims and it made headlines. Kevin Rudd choked back tears at the Black Saturday bushfires. Hawke, Fraser, Obama, Clinton (both of them) have all done it. Winston Churchill was a weeper, which, given his intellect, personality, alcohol consumption and the responsibility he bore, is no surprise. Abraham Lincoln had tears in his rhetorical toolkit. So did Bill Clinton, Gordon Brown, and Bob Hawke – to name just a few. You can click on this link to see the full catalogue.
We seem comfortable letting politicians tear up in the national interest, but we’re not so impressed when the tears are for their own career. Going down gracefully is a skill no-one wants to master but it does you good if you can manage it. Kevin Rudd wept when he lost power. So did Joe Hockey. John Howard didn’t, and neither did Paul Keating. Then again, when a stiff back cracks it’s both poignant and confronting . Malcolm Fraser in defeat astonished us with a tear, and even Margaret Thatcher was moist in the car leaving Number 10 for the last time. Maybe they had feelings after all.
Back in 1901 The Hobart Mercury ran a piece suggesting it is a national trait: “The House of Commons has always been emotional – not extravagantly or violently, as a rule, but with restraint and dignity, characteristic …of the nation of which it is the heart”. The article describes the tears of Castlereagh, Gladstone and Pitt, and compares their restraint to the French Chamber of Deputies where “transports of joy, anger and grief are like epidemics of hysteria”.
As Enid Lyons, our first female MP put it: “Everything that takes place in this chamber goes out somewhere to strike a human heart, to influence the life of some fellow being”. Prime Minister Gillar’s tears remind us of the truth of that.