“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.