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This week as the world watches the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, many of us are moved to emotion. That includes the professional translators tasked with transmitting Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky's words to audiences across the globe.

Not once but twice this past week, a translator tasked with transmitting Zelensky’s words on live television has broken into tears. For each of these translators, the slips of emotion captured a very strong display of humanity—indeed the very sense of humanity that it would seem Zelensky is trying to rally.

It is heartbreaking what’s happening in Ukraine. It is hard to watch. It is painful and yet powerful to see a leader who will stay and fight with his people, wearing the same plain tee-shirt he may have been wearing for days, standing up to a much larger foe.

Every day that Ukraine manages to hold its own from Russian advances, people from around the world tune in to anxiously see where things stand, watching every hour to see if his country’s efforts are enough to maintain the sovereignty and freedom so many take for granted.

This. will. stir. emotions.

These translators cried during broadcasts of  Ukranian president's speeches

The first translator whose emotions got the better of her was translating Zelensky‘s powerful remarks into German when her voice cracked and stopped. Caught off-guard, she apologized on air.

Days later, an English translator for Zelensky’s remarks to the European Parliament could be heard with emotion in his voice as he spoke transmitted the president’s message.

While no one wants to crack on the job, I think these broadcasts remind us of something important. In my view, these worldwide broadcasts are showing us just a little bit of what makes all of us human. In the face of grave and sudden hardship, people all over the world are being stirred into emotion. And these aspects of the human experience surpass any language barrier.

When crying at work makes sense

If the aim of translators is to transmit a message without attachment to its implications, was it unprofessional of them to show emotion in the course of their work? It’s a question we have asked at Verily before. 

As Monica Gabriel noted in a 2012 article for Verily:

It seems to me that there is a double standard when it comes to the show of workplace emotion. Rudeness, condescension, or sometimes even angry shouts are often viewed as an “understandable” show of frustration or strength, but tears, or even just welling of the eyes, are more often labeled “unprofessional” and a display of weakness.

"Let's not be so quick to dismiss a show of emotion as a weakness," Meghan Barylak wrote for Verily in 2015. "What if having strong emotional responses could even be an advantage? Turns out, they are." She explains:

Studies that focused on brain damage to the orbitofrontal cortex—the seat of emotions—have indicated that the lack of emotional insight severely inhibits decision-making and problem solving. Emotion serves as a primal guide that, when integrated with rational thought, helps bring us to fully developed and logical conclusions. As it turns out, strong emotion is not a weakness but a cognitive indicator and a guide. 

"If you're losing it on the job with regularity, sure, that may be a sign that you need help figuring out how to manage your stress better," Barylak writes. "But it could also be a sign that your work environment—not you—needs to change."

It's fair to say that in these cases, the circumstances need to change, and one hopes they will. Until then, tearful translations may be the most accurate. 


CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward pauses broadcast to help Ukranians 

In another show of emotion-affected humanity on live television this week, CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward paused her reporting to help Ukrainians needing assistance.