I remember several years ago having a discussion with my Israeli neighbor. She had just moved to the United States and told me she didn’t understand why we Americans are “so fake.” She said she found it weird that when asked how we are doing, we always say, “I’m fine, how are you?” I’d never really thought about it, and I inquired how things were different in Israel. “Oh,” she said, “we’re honest with each other. If someone is having a terrible day, you hear about it.”
It was the first time I realized that saying “I’m pretty good” is an automatic response, like breathing, for myself and so many of us.
One of the silver linings I’m seeing all around me is that people are being more vulnerable and candid with one another since the pandemic started. Some friends now answer “how are you?” with a straightforward, “not well” or “this is hard.” Others admit they’re not sure how they’re doing. Still others declare, “I’m good,” then pause, and confess “actually, that’s not true.” One friend called me back several minutes after we hung up the phone to say, “You know how I told you I’m fine? I’m kind of not.”
It’s absurd to think the majority of us would be doing “just fine” during this most unstable, confusing (crazy-making?), and emotionally souped-up time of our lives. A pandemic we can’t get a handle on? The country finally waking up in a widespread way to the racial and class inequities we managed to normalize? An election that, no matter what, will leave half the country scared?
I don’t even ask “How are you?” anymore. I’ve adjusted it to, “How are you doing in this moment?” That’s about all I myself can answer. Even in this very moment, I can tell you that I’m scared and hopeful and freaked out and optimistic and peaceful and anxious and sad and delighted. I don’t know how those feelings can all coexist, but they just do.
While all the structures and systems are crumbling beneath us, maybe we can learn to open up to each other a little more and show our humanity. If we’re doing well, we should certainly feel free to share. But maybe we can stop making it an autopilot experience. Perhaps we can put aside our egos and habits to show up with authenticity.
Another gift we can give each other is how we respond when others share they’re not doing well. We can stop trying to fix it by giving advice, which basically no one wants to hear anyway. What we all mostly want is to be seen and heard. The best gift is helping someone hold their feelings so they can be less alone. It’s enough usually to offer a listening ear and, “that sounds hard.” It will be heaven when we can get back to the power of hugs.
All around us, the foundation is breaking, and many are imagining ways to rebuild that are sustainable, smarter, and more humane. We will need energy, inspiration, and connection. It will help deeply to allow people to show up as we are, be real, and give one another a soft place to land.