As a member of the 21st century, you’ve likely been involved in many conversations as follows:
“How are you doing?”
“Good, and you?”
I’d like to think that everyone is doing really well, but the patients and politics I encounter leads me to believe that everything is not quite as it seems. I have to wonder – have we simply become resigned to presenting a pleasant facade, habitually replying pleasantries before checking in to see how we are actually doing?
This glossy, self-fulfilling proclamation of wellbeing in itself isn’t that harmful. But it seems to be a sign of a deeper affliction running rampant through our modern day communication: an inability to share our truth. When I say I’m well, rather than truly how I’m feeling, I am denying your ability to share your truth. Before we’ve begun a conversation, we have already limited its ability to bypass pleasantries and dive into something deeper – authenticity.
To feel one emotion yet feel required to present another is a distinctly upscale affliction. A first world problem, if you will. Almost everyone I know is ‘fine’ while silently struggling inside. They are the women with manicured Instagram photos, struggling with body image issues. They are the men with high-paying corporate jobs that wish to pursue their passion. They are the couples booking expensive engagement photo shoots, while wondering if they’ve chosen the right person. They are the acquaintance at the party telling you about their latest achievement, before going home and doubting their life choices.
The only honesty we’ll allow ourselves to share is to say we’re stressed. Even in this statement there is a mistruth – when we say we’re stressed, do we actually mean we’re tired? Are we simply tired from trying to present a false self every day? Are we exhausted because of the disparity between who we are and who we’re trying to be? A disparity that is exhausting to maintain?
This disparity is not a requirement of life; it is something we’ve chosen. We see perfection modeled for us and we buy in to what we think it will mean, as if presenting a perfect life will somehow equal a perfect life. In an effort to hide our shadows, we become actors in our lives acting the life we wish we had instead of the life we are in, forever toeing the edge of living until we die. Collectively, by choosing this facade, we make it increasingly difficult to go against the grain and be genuine. In a society fuelled by appearances our greatest debt has become authenticity.
I can’t help but wonder if authenticity is the fuel of connection. Isn’t it the weirdness of your friends precisely what attracted you to them in the first place? When I am surrounded by people who insist that they are ‘fine’ I don’t feel connected. I feel bored. All of this keeping calm and carrying on feels like we’re hedging our bets against criticism without realizing that connection has been an unfortunate bystander victim in the process. When I present a perfect copy of myself and I’m critiqued, I am protected: ‘they don’t know who I truly am, anyways’, I think to myself. And it’s true. But in a lifetime built around protecting ourselves from pain, the only one who ends up hurt, is us. And in a generation that has no great war, no significant tragedy that could create a common ‘we’, our greatest battle will be fought within ourselves, silently and alone, for fear of what it would mean to share.
I’ll share it: I’m not fine. Yes, I am grateful (God forbid we forget to mention we’re grateful) for all that life has afforded me but I consistently fluctuate somewhere between worry and fear of missing out on my life because I worry so much. I’m afraid that I won’t be successful; I’m afraid that I haven’t defined success and won’t even know when I get there. I’m afraid to make the wrong decision before remembering that I believe everything happens for a reason and talking myself off the ledge each time I make a decision. I’m exhausted from this. If given a day to myself, I’d probably sleep the whole thing away because I am damn tired as a result of a perpetual desire to do too much. And no, I did not wake up like this. My life superficially is ‘fine’ – I live in a first world country where I’m free to be exactly who I am. I have a loving family, supportive friends, and my basic needs (food, water, shelter) completely covered. This fineness at times creates guilt inside that I would be anything but fine, further suppressing my authenticity, if I let it. But I am committed to being authentic. My hope is that through this I can create connection that runs deeper than idle chitchat.
My commitment to authenticity has not come easily. I still feel the familiar tug of wanting to only share the highlight reel. But I recognize a simple truth of authenticity: when you share your shadows, it invites others to share theirs. There is a unity in scars. It’s the reason rates of depression and suicide decrease after significant community tragedies. It’s the reason disease support groups are so helpful. When we see each other as we truly are, we gain empathy for one another and ourselves.
Perhaps the world would fall apart if everyone communicated honestly. Perhaps your quick conversation with the barista would turn into a five-minute conversation. Maybe you’d end up chatting with cab drivers about something other than the weather. I suppose everything would take a little bit longer. But maybe your boss would understand why our head isn’t in the game. Or you’d understand why your waitress was rude. Maybe we’d all come to understand each other a bit better. And isn’t that the whole point of this trip around the sun?
In a society fuelled by appearances our greatest debt has become authenticity Click To Tweet When you share your shadows, it invites others to share theirs Click To Tweet When we see each other as we truly are, we gain empathy for one another and ourselves Click To Tweet