“How are you doing?” “I’m good, great actually. How about you?” “No complaints!”
This is the most repeated lie in the world today. The truth is much more complex.
Maybe one person in this conversation is struggling with depression and wondering if it will cost them a job. Perhaps the other heard last week their mother has terminal cancer.
Neither person is good, much less great. There are complaints aplenty to go around.
And the same is probably true in our lives, either today or some day in the near future. None of us have a trouble-free life. We all have smooth seasons and terrible times.
We Don’t Want to Burden Someone Else
Still we contribute to the deception everyone’s lives are comprised of rainbows, unicorns, and sunshine each day. In part, we believe having a bit of honesty in even a casual conversation will create awkwardness for the other person. As if a simple response would create an enemy.
We could say, “It’s been tough lately. I have some challenges in my family, and it’s creating stress. How are you doing?”
What decent person would respond angrily to this type of answer? Nobody.
We Don’t Want to Be the Only Imperfect One
We know in our minds everyone is a mess, or has recovered from a mess. Nobody has it all together, and even if they do it’s because they have strained and stressed and struggled to arrive at “okay.”
Yet we hang on to the lie everyone else is better than us. We buy the misinformation that the rest of the world is all-put-together and we are the only messed up ones.
So we stick with platitudes. We tell half-truths to each other, and we stay hidden.
We Can Open the Door to Real Connections
I spent a lot of years repeating this very pattern of lies, but I am getting better at this. Some days, I still catch myself falling into the old habit of acting as though everything is beautiful. Yet I am learning a new pattern. I am practicing honesty in every conversation, even the little ones.
The results are incredible. Instead of awkwardness, my transparency is met with authenticity and safety. When I take my mask off first or show my bruises, it gives the person I am talking to permission to do the same. Instead of skin-deep half-truths, I find real connections and common experiences.
Just the other day, I found myself in a very gritty conversation with a coworker. We talked about why our marriages are both “working” after over a decade, though many of our friends have long since divorced. We both walked away encouraged and strengthened, because we were reminded we are not alone.
How did this great conversation begin? What magic words did I utter to produce such honesty? Nothing special. She asked me how I’m doing, and I told her it’s been a tough month. Then the floodgates of real conversation were opened.
Truth is, this type of conversation is exactly what we see Jesus engaged in all over the Gospel narratives. The Samaritan woman at the well is perhaps the most well-known example. Jesus seamlessly transitioned from a dry throat to a life-changing conversation, because he took the first step into deep waters (no pun intended). He was constantly looking for opportunities to speak into the real issues of people’s souls.
Jesus was never satisfied with half-truths. He did not settle for platitudes. He yearned for true connections with others. So maybe, instead of trotting out the old WWJD? wristbands, we should ask ourselves a different question:
What Would Jesus Say?
I am convinced we can have remarkable and significant conversations in a shallow world, if we will simply jump first, if we will risk first, if we will pull off our masks and admit we are not okay.
troy mc laughlin
Thanks Chris. You’ve been a becon of hope to others because of your willingness to jump first, to admit to stumbles and struggles that many share but may not. Thank you for using your words and your life as chalk board of lessons that we can all learn from. Know that I appreciate you and your words.
Thanks for your transparency, Chris. If we never talk about the tough stuff, how will we be able to give or receive the comfort that’s needed? Great challenge to embrace: What would Jesus say?
Troy, you are such an encouragement to me. Thanks for the kind words. I am beginning to believe that false and safe conversations are a huge problem. They lead to loneliness and despair.
Hope you didn’t read that as coming from an expert. Many days, I still really suck at this. Yet I know it’s a powerful way to consider our words.
Sometimes the greatest burden we can place on others is to keep pretending when we aren’t okay. I think people sense more than we say but our pretense extends the burden of silence to others. What we don’t speak against, is often a tacit approval. To a hurting person our silence can in effect silence them.
Linda, you are so right. I have seen this so many times in my friends, where I know they are not right but are choosing to hold it inside. Sometimes I get bold and call them out, but I need to be a good friend to do that. Most of the time, I let the obvious-to-me lie go, but it sours the conversation.
This is a great post, Chris. No half truth there. You’ve presented a way to be authentic without being whiny. Thanks!
I try to practice this in my life. Even when people say they’re okay and they don’t sound okay I try to give them an opportunity to talk. It kind of culminated in a week earlier this month that 5 different coworkers came into my office an shut the door and said “can we talk?” I am not a counselor and I don’t pretend to be one but I am a good listener and sometimes that’s all a person needs. This post is great and I thank you for putting it out there.
Melinda, that is such a good point, and something I wish in retrospect I would have mentioned. We ALL know the person who we almost try to avoid talking to, because they bring so much heaviness to our lives. They share everything that’s wrong, every time. It feels so…victim-y. We don’t want to be that, but we cannot shut out the world either.
Tammy, that is awesome! I am starting to see that people trust me with their struggles as I step into this as well. Thanks for the encouragement – it’s great to hear from someone who is farther down the road than me on this.
I think that its all about balance, Chris.
Some burdens, much smaller and less traumatic are meant for us to bear while others are meant to be shared for the purpose of spreading the load because God never meant for us to go through them alone. (the Scripture reference escaped my mind just now)
I have always feared being a burden and or being a whiner. Plus, truthfully, being real is a little risky. But what if my doing so, in the way you shared, allows someone to use their gifts or experiences for God’s glory?
I never gave that much consideration. You’ve got me thinking, Chris.
Chris, great insights in this post. Several times a day I pass others in the hallway at my school and say, “How’s it going?” — most of the time not really wanting to stop and chat. Your comments have made me realize I need to stop and be more engaged with others.
This is such a tough balance. Especially if we are dealing with things that don’t really change. I get asked all the time if my daughter’s epilepsy and autism are “better.” I have no idea how to answer without sounding whiny. I think we are all in process
To a certain degree, we have replaced “Hi” with “How are you?” — without expecting an answer. We have the opportunity to stand out in a very positive way if we do engage with others though, even those we don’t know well. Perhaps especially those we don’t know well.
It is a very tough balance.
One of the great strengths of your post is the example you shared of how to answer a question honestly without whining.
You know, Chris, sometimes its not just about honest answers but also the right questions. Color me cynical but sometimes people’s questions don’t reveal much care or concern.
I think that balance and discernment are important. But those two things can easily become an excuse if we’re not careful. At least they can for me.
During 500 word challenge I’ve been confronted by my own fears regarding authenticity. Your post came at a perfect time.
I have been known to ask, “Do you really want to know?” when people who I think don’t care ask how I am doing. Snarky? Yes, most definitely…but at least I am coaching them about how to talk openly with others
I’d call that capatilizing on a “teachable moment.”
You’re right. I think it’s so rare that someone engages another person with their full attention that it will stand out.
You are right that you need to hold back and be the friend that can feel safe to them. As you take this road of opening up yourself, you will find more people being able to risk honestly back. Peace to you on your journey.
This is great, but I’ve found we need to be choosy about who we open to.
Chad I agree with you. That’s why I respond with a tease of sorts. “Been a tough week. How are you?” If they are disinterested, they won’t ask. Seems to weed out the selfish/busy.
Happy to read about this topic, it is seldom discussed and SO important
Loved this post, Chris. Just saw it now because I’ve been working on getting things ready for the launch. As always, concise, transparent, really good.
Totally agree Chad, and sometimes we learn we need to be choosy the hard way.
Best of luck on your launch Anne! Thanks for the encouragement
Hi Chris! I know this is terribly belated, but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post. I had written a very similar one a couple of days before this, and Christa S. also tackled this topic around the same time. Must be something in the cyber-air, eh?
It is so difficult to determine who is safe to share our pain with, but you are so right that significant connection will only happen if we are brave enough to be honest at times.
I had never considered that Jesus himself never accepted half-truths. I find that
in the midst of depression or pain I try to hide it even from him. Silly me.
Thank you for such an honest and thought-provoking read. Grace and peace to you today!
There is no “belated” in the blogosphere, right? I think a lot of us struggle with how to be honest while honoring others self-interest. I am coming to believe that offering an intro to our real selves gives people the chance to invest or not.
Agree with what Chad said, maybe not tell just anyone, but it would be so great if the people who are close to me would just tell me they are struggling, since I know it already. Ha ha, I’m pretty quick to tell people “I feel like crap today!” I might be one of those over-sharers. I also wish people would be more willing to engage in conversations about the really hard stuff that is going on in the world, without immediately jumping into a partisan political discussion.
I hear you. I actually think this fear of transparency is part of what leads to political bantering. We can talk issues without investing anything of ourselves. We can’t do the same with the things that just suck in our lives though.
Sometimes when I perceive that the other person is not so okay, I may push a little – “That wasn’t very convincing” or “Really? You seem a little down.” My response to the question may be determined by how much time I have; sometimes, it’s just easier to say I’m OK rather than have to get into a longer discussion. It also depends on who’s asking – a close friend, a minor acquaintance (a worker in a business I frequent, for example), or a stranger. I appreciate the article, and the encouragement to be a little more open (my kids say I am TOO open, but I know it has had long-lasting impact on some people, ultimately encouraging because they know I have ‘survived’ some tough circumstances).