General Question

RedPowerLady's avatar

What do you do when you see a stranger crying in public?

Asked by RedPowerLady (12591points) November 12th, 2009
34 responses
“Great Question” (7points)

What do you do when you see a stranger crying in public?

I have two examples:
Example One – Today I was in the supermarket and there was a woman sitting at a table very red eyed and teary. She looked miserable. I felt so bad for her and wanted to offer her some comfort or even a warm look but felt impeded socially in doing so.

Example Two – I have cried in public myself. Not on purpose mind you but sometimes it is very hard to help. I’ve had both occasions where I wanted people to ignore me and just let me cry and other occasions when I just wished someone would say something sweet to me.

What is it in society that makes us feel that we shouldn’t approach someone crying in public? Is it a personal choice or more of a societal learning of impeding on their boundaries?

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The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I’d check to see if they were physically injured.

OutOfTheBlue's avatar

Oddly enough i feel bad for them right away and i am not a very emotional person. I just don’t like seeing people cry for what ever reason it is..

LKidKyle1985's avatar

It’s because I don’t want to get int he middle of some tragic story and have to stand there for 15 minutes listening to the person talk about it. I mean it can get really awkward, Unless its a smokin hot chick then I’m on that like white on rice.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

But to be honest, I usually want to say something too, but I always feel like I would agitate the situation more than anything.

Jude's avatar

I walk over and ask if they’re okay (obviously they’re not). I can’t help it. Doesn’t matter who it is, I’ll always ask.

chyna's avatar

I have actually gone to them to see if I can help. In each instance they have said no, but I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t see if I could help.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

I would probably say something… anything.. to try to make them laugh. They would likely be annoyed.. but at least it would be a distraction, however temporary.

Beta_Orionis's avatar

As @jmah, I always ask if the person is okay or if there’s anything I can do to help. I’ve heard plenty of life stories, and helped more than a few people this way. I know If I cry in public, I am wishing someone would approach me, otherwise I would find a secluded spot away from prying eyes.

I’ve never felt hindered in doing so, but I know that I personally am stubbornly independent sometimes, and never want to burden others with my emotional troubles, and that sometimes causes me to hesitate a moment. Ultimately, I go through with it. You can only help if you try.

JONESGH's avatar

Make sure they’re going to be okay, or will be okay.

Sarcasm's avatar

I don’t do anything.

I’m not an emotional person. I honestly have absolutely no clue what to say when dealing with someone, even a close friend, when they’re down. I always made things worse when I tried to cheer up my girlfriend-of-the-time.

I don’t want to pick up excess baggage. They’re [usually] crying for a reason. There is a problem that needs to be fixed. If they’re crying, it probably means it’s a really hard problem.
There was an interesting “experiment” my Sociology teacher told me that some students did. They parked a car off the street as if they had a flat tire on random days, and had one of them holding out a thumb as if they wanted to hitchhike. Various “characters” were used. An old lady, a pregnant girl and a college guy. The college guy got offered a ride the most. People don’t like strangers’ baggage.

Lastly, it is a stranger. Could be a psychopath. Could have a knife. There could be (don’t want to be sexist here, but..) an angry boyfriend around the corner who’d misinterpret what I was doing. The person could be inconsolable. It’s just best to avoid it.

If they wanted help, I’d assume they’d talk to someone close to them. Some people, it seems, just want to cry. To let it all out.

DominicX's avatar

To be 100% honest: I would do nothing. It’s different if it was someone I knew, but a stranger; I’m not going to do anything. I can’t butt into someone else’s life without knowing them and I would want to avoid the situation where all they wanted to do was be left alone. I feel like I would do nothing but risk making it worse—it’s not worth it for me. Yes, I would feel bad for them, but I just don’t think I could do anything. People can be quite unstable when crying; what if their reaction to my intervention is quite bad?

If it was someone I knew, I would definitely try and talk to them; I hate seeing friends in that situation and I would hope they would do the same for me (and they have), but I wouldn’t expect a stranger to approach me or anything if I were crying in public.

Now, one time at school, I went up to someone I really didn’t know (he wasn’t a friend of mine) when he was crying, but that was because I knew exactly why he was crying and I knew how to fix it. And I did. :) But I’m not just going to throw myself into a random situation.

nxknxk's avatar

There was this cute guy sitting at a table today in a very public place, and he had his hand over his face and looked, like, really dejected. I was embarrassed for him because it was so public and people were walking by and looking and wondering what the problem was. I kept stealing glances but I never determined whether he was actually crying.

The temptation was great (it wasn’t even the temptation to be altruistic really; he was just attractive) but I didn’t approach him. I don’t want to intrude on moments like that. He somehow didn’t really belong in that setting to begin with; likewise it wasn’t in my place to get involved.

majorrich's avatar

I used to work at a University and often around midterms see studrnts, particularly female students sitting in the hallways crying after blowing an exam. I would take time oout to cou sel them a bit , buy ‘em a soda, try to put a smile on the face. I’ve never had problems with live people weeping.
I admit I have some trouble watching grown men cry, especially when I know something about the circumstances. Particularly servicemen, having been there, I know those tears often come from a fractured soul and I can’t help but shed a tear myself. But not where they can see unless it was appropriate. My station often didn’t allow that luxury.
sometimes I would allow my letters to go out with a drop or two on them. I owed the families that much

MacBean's avatar

“I’m sorry, hi, can I do anything to help, or do you need to be alone?”

When I cry in public, it’s usually because I’m having a panic attack. I really appreciate it when people ask if there’s anything they can do. I always say “No, thank you,” to the help but it makes me feel supported and I can work myself out of the attack faster.

Blondesjon's avatar

Quit chopping onions and apologize.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Absolutely nothing.

ubersiren's avatar

I give advice to strangers on the internet and I would try to help a stranger that I actually saw in the flesh (do they exist?). For whatever reason, I always have an overwhelming urge to help anyone I see who could be in trouble. I once saw a man beating on a woman in an alley behind my house as I was washing dishes. I ran outside after him without shoes and without my brain, obviously. I couldn’t help it. It was like a reflex. The very few times I’ve seen someone crying (or puking, or struggling in general) in public, I’ve asked if there was anything I could do.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@ubersiren I saw a domestic fight on the streets as well. We were in our car. We followed them slowly and honked so the guy knew we were onto him. He stopped. Thank goodness.

I also stop when someone looks injured etc.. It is just the crying that makes me take pause for some reason. Perhaps because they aren’t in immediate danger.

casheroo's avatar

It would really depend on the situation. But, I can’t imagine a situation where I wouldn’t approach the person and ask if they were okay or just hand them a tissue.

I know I mentioned it on Fluther before, but I learned of my grandmother’s death this past August, while sitting in the doctors office. (an ob/gyn) I began crying uncontrollably, and I knew people knew what had happened as I asked my mother on the phone if it had happened. I was shocked no one came up to me, no one offered a tissue or anything. I think the fact that we weren’t in a sick atmosphere made me wonder why no one did anything.

@MacBean People can be quite nice when they see me having a panic attack in public. Some completely ignore you, and others want to be hands on. And with my fear of elevators, and having to be in hospitals quite often lately..I’ve had a lot of nurses rub my back and try to soothe me. I love nurses lol

holden's avatar

I am normally hesitant to approach strangers in public for any reason, because I am a shy person. If it is a situation where I think I can help, as in if the person is distraught because he/she is lost, has lost something, etc. I will try to muster up the courage to say or do something. In most cases though, I will keep my distance.

tinyfaery's avatar

Depends. You can often tell by body language is someone wants to be approached. I usually ask if they are okay or need anything, but there have been times when I do nothing. It probably has more to do with me than them.

warka1's avatar

probarly tell to cry more…

wundayatta's avatar

We have so many fewer small communities where where everyone knows everyone. It is somewhat possible to approach strangers in smaller communities, or communities that are tied together in some way, like the university that @majorrich spoke of. But in larger communities; cities and such; you have no idea if it is safe or dangerous to try to help a crying person.

Will they freak out if a stranger approaches, or will they welcome it? You don’t know, so the default position is to do nothing.

Crying in public seems like breast feeding or necking in public. Many people are made uncomfortable, and wish the criers would find somewhere private to do it. You know: “Get a room!”

Sometimes, in a professional setting, a woman in my office might start crying. I want to put my arm around her, but I can’t. I guess that’s the way society is now. We want to comfort, but we can’t.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I won’t intrude but I have exchanged looks with people in public who appeared teary, more of an “I see you, I see you are hurting or mad and though I don’t know why, I see you and kind of feel for you”, that’s about it in a glance and more often than not I get a nod or twitch of the mouth and feel I’ve at least acknowledged my fellow human whether or not I can or should be of any assistance.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

Funny thing, if it is a female, no matter her age or type or appearance, I will probably ask if they are okay or if they need help. I was raised to believe that women are the fairer (and weaker) sex, and even though I know that really isn’t true, (the weaker part) having that instilled upon me at a young age means it is just how I think and react in these kinds of situations.

I haven’t experienced any crying males, so I am not sure how to deal with that. I’ll let you know when it happens.

Supacase's avatar

I do pretty much exactly what @hungryhungryhortence does. I am too introverted to actually approach them and would also feel like I was intruding, but I cannot ignore the fact that someone is publicly hurting. My hope is that my acknowledgment of them lets them know that someone is sympathetic and that I’m approachable if they do need help.

wildpotato's avatar

I’ve only been around crying strangers once, and it was an exceptional situation: I was on the 1 train, aboveground in the Bronx, and someone was playing the news out loud on his phone. They announced that Obama won the presidency, and everyone (there were about a dozen of us in the car) started crying. I’ve never experienced something like that before or since – a bunch of people overwhelmed by emotion and trying to hide their embarassing involuntary reactions, and at the same time glancing around and grinning at one another, exultantly sharing in the moment.

For my part, I’ve cried in public once, other than that time. Also on the subway, actually. My grandmother had died the week before, and I was listening to Jose Gonzalez and just broke down. There weren’t too many people on there, but they all studiously ignored me. It sucked. So I’ve thought since then that I’d like to help a distraught stranger – or at least make clear that the offer of help is there.

jamiellee's avatar

I will ask him/her what is wrong..

OpryLeigh's avatar

I remember once seeing a girl crying in public and I just asked her if there was anything I could do to help. That is all I could do. I didn’t want to say “are you ok?” because, obviously, they aren’t but by the same token I wanted to see if I could help.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Thanks so much for the answers.

IZD90's avatar

i’d record the person crying with a tape recorder and play it back to them in a high pitch tone..

dani6119's avatar

If they were by themselves, I would ask if they were okay. Yes, I realize that’s a stupid question in one sense, but in another it’s not. Maybe they really do need help.
I am a great listener and if I can help someone by listening to them then I’ve made them and myself feel better.
Maybe there isn’t anything I can do for them but just knowing that someone cared enough to offer and see if they were all right might make them feel better.
I prefer not to cry in public. It’s very embarrassing but there are times when I can’t help it. I was crying at my desk this afternoon. Not because I wanted to but was just so incredibly sad, I couldn’t stop. Luckily, I was able to pull it together before my co-worker came back from lunch. In that case, I’d rather he pretended not to notice.

FlipFlap's avatar

One reason people in that situation don’t inquire about what is wrong is that people do not want to intrude on another person’s privacy. Another reason is that you expose yourself to potentially embarrassing situations if the person responds in an unexpected way. Another reason is that people who feel empathy for the person feel a heightened level of embarrassment.

seazen's avatar

This is a great and thought-provoking question about personal morality and philosophy: I must admit, and without trying to toot my own horn, I usually am the one running into the proverbial building on fire, as opposed o those running away from. A person crying on the street, a woman – let’s face it – 99% of the time – would almost automatically trigger a response from me – a can I help you – are you lost – do you need a hand?

Not anymore.

I haven’t become more cynical or heartless: I’ve become more realistic and afraid. Of the consequences. I don’t take women (or men) hitchhikers anymore, and I don’t talk to strangers period. Sad. It makes me sad. But GQ.

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