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On speaking the truth

Why it pays to honestly say how you’re doing

From time to time, I come across days laden in abnormal circumstances.

Today, for example, I knew from the moment I accidentally poured curdled milk into my fresh cup of coffee that something wasn’t right. Alas, come lunchtime, I opened up my backpack to find my salad had leaked through its Tupperware lid and generously drenched all of my stuff in vegetable residue.

There was no doubt some force of the universe was actively preventing me from going about my usual day. For the life of me, I couldn’t hold conversations with people without losing my train of thought. I felt equal parts anxious and aloof. No matter how hard I tried to tell myself that I was okay, I could never seem to reach a state of complacence.

Last semester, a couple friends of mine laughed in my face when I muttered “good” in response to one of them asking me how I was doing. Apparently, my tone of voice indicated I was indeed feeling drained and miserable; I’d reached the point where no form of pleasantry could have covered up my inherent state of dreariness.

It’s always bothered me how the standard way for people to greet one another is to exchange “how are you?” when in fact, neither the asker of the question nor the answerer have any incentive for a wholehearted exchange on the matter. More often than not, at least in a professional setting, I’ll answer this question with a direct statement of purpose rather than a white lie about my current feelings.

Having had painfully shy yet keenly intuitive tendencies for as long as I can remember, I generally refuse to talk in depth about myself in fear that I’ll end up bleeding out my entire emotional backdrop and leaving the other person feeling uneasy. Most of the time, this works to my advantage — the conversation moves forward and people don’t think twice about the state of my actual wellbeing.

On days like today, though, I knew that there was a good chance dressing up my existence in a reluctant “fine, and how are you?” would result in another laughing fit. When a friend of mine came into the office and asked me how I was doing, I decided to tell the truth.

“I don’t know, I’m feeling a little off today. It could be because Mercury is in retrograde, but I’m not sure if I actually believe in that kind of stuff.”

I was relieved to find this experiment in honesty was well-received. While I had expected my friend to recoil in the face of my unconventional greeting, she laughed and we naturally moved on with our conversation.

Letting people know how I’m feeling upfront allows me to express myself without the guilt of fabricating an entire narrative about my day. Though society has conditioned us to believed superficial conversations are the utmost form of politeness, I feel a lot better about myself when I allow my words to echo my inner streams of vulnerability. What’s more, truthfulness need not always result in awkwardness — with the right choice of words, I’ve learned I can easily facilitate empathy rather than pity.