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 automatically 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 all about it."
It was the first time I realized that saying “I’m good” is a default response, like breathing, for myself and for so many of us.
One of the silver linings I’m seeing all around me now 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. I'm kind of freaking out.” 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 not.”
It’s absurd to think the majority of us would be doing “just fine” during this most unstable, confusing), and emotionally charged time. 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 for centuries? An election that, no matter what, will leave half the country scared?
I don’t even ask “How are you?” anymore. I’ve shifted my language to, “How are you doing in this moment?” That’s about all I myself can answer. Even in this very second, I can tell you that I’m scared and hopeful and optimistic and peaceful and anxious and sad and delighted. I don’t know how those feelings can all coexist, but they simply do.
While all the structures and systems crumble 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 ("Hey, you should try yoga!" or "Are you getting enough sleep?"), which basically no one wants to hear for the most part. What we all want is to be seen and heard. The best gift we can offer is helping someone hold their feelings so they can feel less alone. It's enough usually to offer a listening ear and, “That sounds hard" or "Do you want to tell me more about that?"
All around us, the foundation is breaking, and many of us are imagining ways to rebuild that are more sustainable, equitable, and humane. We will need energy, inspiration and connection. It will help deeply to allow people to show up as they are, be real, and give one another a soft place to land.
Michelle Cove is a journalist, filmmaker, author, and founder of the nonprofit MEDIAGIRLS. She uses storytelling and media to encourage, challenge, empower and inspire others and is seeking a job that allows her to put these skills to use; check out her resume if you may know the right fit. Michelle's favorite stories involve resilience, a blend of soft humility and sharp humor, and a belief that the universe is conspiring to help us all grow. Find her at LinkedIn.
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