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Theresa's tears prove Britain needs more emotion in public life ǀ View

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I've been struggling against the British stiff upper lip all my life. First as an Asian lad explaining my passions to teachers in provincial Yorkshire, now in fighting apathy as Chairman of a global charity, my life has always been about eliciting more emotion from others, in spite of their resistance.

Those blaming May for not showing more emotion earlier in her time in Downing Street should ask themselves what they would have said if she actually had. In Britain, we can only let the mask slip as we leave. We must maintain the poker face until we fold. And we are suffering as a society because of it. Maybe a more warm-blooded approach would help us stock food banks, staff hospices and even sort Brexit.

Someone in the Sahara desert or Mongolia would have known how Theresa May felt as she resigned just as easily as someone in her Maidenhead constituency.
Adeem Younis
Chairman of Penny Appeal

Us Brits have a lack of public emotion that is so severe, we sometimes only know how to deal with it by castigating those who violate the omerta of restraint. Some have criticised May for showing any emotion at all, arguing that the inhabitants of Downing Street should leave their emotion at the door. Others wanted her to show more emotion, demanding a Kardashian-esque rollercoaster of drama at every policy announcement.

This is impossible to imagine in Britain. We will never have leaders like Barack Obama who publicly cried seven times in eight years, not only after the Sandy Hook massacre but also while watching Aretha Franklin sing live.

And things are even more passionate in Asia, where emotional, heartfelt leadership is the norm, not the exception - just watch any India-Pakistan cricket match to get an idea.

A lot of people who grew up in more open, expressive, collectivist cultures are now in the UK, and are struggling with the limited British expressiveness that can often only be unleashed after a few pints. Many Britons who grew up without the same social drinking norms as the “typical Brit” complain that they struggle to connect emotionally with colleagues, friends or even family members, because of this.

But why are so many of my fellow Brits so stiff? Growing up in Yorkshire I lost count of the number of times a teacher told me to "wipe the grin off my face" - some even found my gushing emotions off-putting. Many commentators see the cause as geographical: a small, rainy, island cut off from the world with a natural moat would only naturally have citizens who keep each other at arms’ length. Every man is an island, it seems, specially if he’s an Englishman.

Emotional expression is the glue that holds society - and humanity - together. Being “emotionally available” seems to be the most important prerequisite for romantic relationships. Expressiveness and sensitivity are one of the few traits that are desirable across the board in both genders. And Emotional Intelligence has long overtaken IQ as the best metric for overachievers.

Added to that, emotion (and specially emotional expression) is a truly global language. Researchers have identified six distinct facial expressions corresponding to six universal emotions. Those expressions and emotions translate almost perfectly across cultures: Someone in the Sahara desert or Mongolia would have known how Theresa May felt as she resigned just as easily as someone in her Maidenhead constituency.

This is something I’ve relied upon almost every day since I founded a worldwide charity a decade ago. We’ve helped people in 52 countries and on six continents. This wouldn’t be possible if donors couldn’t immediately not only understand, but feel and taste, our beneficiaries’ experiences by seeing their faces in a photo or video.

At home in the UK, our country is only going to thrive if we can continue to get people of different cultures, and sometimes speaking different languages, working together. Just as the modern UK benefits from different cultures and their cuisines, it can learn from the different ways we all have of expressing ourselves and our emotions. Globally, Britain will only thrive and secure its place in the future if it sometimes wears its collective heart on its national sleeve, shows genuine empathy and creates shared values.

This can’t happen without shared emotions - and maybe it’s time for our leaders to show us how that’s done.

Adeem Younis is Chairman of Penny Appeal, a British-based Muslim charity working in 30 countries around the world, including the UK.

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