Sunday, June 26th, 2011
The main way to be honest is to refrain from lying. The other way is to refrain from hiding your true thoughts and feelings. The latter is so much harder than the former.
Something I’ve never been good at, nor cared to improve, is the ability to use the #1 traditional American greeting: “Hi, how are you doing?”
Because even as a young kid, I have questioned the practicality and sincerity of that extremely personal question which acquaintances use to greet each other with. I remember when I started pre-school (in 1985), asking my parents how I was supposed to answer that question. They told me to say, “Just fine. How are you doing?”
So that’s how I would respond to being asked how I was doing. By the time I got to Middle School, I got so lazy at it that I just began simply answering with a mumbled “Doing good, doing good.” Conveniently for me, I learned that people were so used to having the questioned returned on them, that they assumed I was saying, “Doing good, and you?”
And at age 30, that’s still what happens to me on a daily basis.
I just can’t take something seriously if I find it to be anything less than sincere. Sure, I’m definitely over-analyzing our traditional American greeting. But to me, I feel that most of the time, we’re not actually asking the other person how they are doing. Why?
Because I’ve observed that so much of the time when people ask me how I’m doing, they don’t even look me in the eyes, and they just keeping walking past me as they say it.
For me to honestly answer that question, the person asking it A) has to be someone I know well and be able to be vulnerable enough to tell them how I am really feeling and B) has to show me with their body language that they actually care about the answer.
Am I being too honest by admitting that when I ask someone how they are doing, after they have just asked me the same question, that nine times out of ten I’m not really concerned with their answer? The exception is if the other person was being so open with me that their answer was anything different than perfectly positive: If the other person is admitting they are having a tough day or that something interesting (good or bad) was going on in their lives, I would jump on the chance to explore what’s going on in their lives.
Why? Because when it comes to relating to people, I am action-based, not emotion-based.
I understood this concept much more clearly when I spent the summer of 2003 (and 2004) in Thailand teaching at a Christian school. As I was immersed in Thai culture, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was hardly ever asked by the Thai people how I was doing. Instead, they asked me what I was doing, what I did earlier that day, or what I would be doing later that day. If I was holding a bag of snacks I had just bought from the store, they would reach for my bag, asking about my recent purchases. For that reason alone, I felt so at home and so connected with the Thai people. It felt so natural and real.
My belief and history with starting conversations is that if I start talking to someone by asking a personal question that intrudes on their emotions, unless they really know me, they will put up their guard and give me a generic answer.
So instead, whenever I greet a person, it is never with an emotional question. I always ask a question based on that person’s daily activities or make a positive observation based on their appearance.
Or if I can’t think of something to say, I’ll propose this one: “What was the most unique thing that has happened to you so far today?” I love to engage people in thought. I can’t handle talking about the weather.
I want real human connections with the people in my life.
It’s important to me to be as honest as I can be to people, without being inappropriately revealing. It’s a fact that as a man, I would be foolish to “wear my heart on my sleeve.” I learned very quickly after entering the work force not to reveal my insecurities and emotions to my coworkers. Because I observed that the men I respected in the work place kept their personal life private. I also noticed that women in the office who acted more like men, who suppressed emotional urges, were more likely to be successful.
So what does all this have to do with parenting and being a husband? After all, that is what this blog is all about.
Here’s how. Men are often known for hiding the way they really feel. They are known for holding in their emotions. Why do they do that?
The vulnerable answer is that we men are expected to be strong and in control. Expression of emotions and admittance of feelings compromises that image. And the truth is, the perception that we are in control is just as important as being in control, a lot of the time. That’s undeniably important for men to live by in the work place.
But not at home. Men must be able to separate the two versions of themselves: the work version vs. the home version.
While I may spend most of my day time hours turning off my emotions in the office, when I get home, it’s important for me to express how I feel to my wife. I must remind myself to flip the switch back to “home life” from “work life.” I know that it’s important for her to know what’s going on inside of my head. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes there’s just nothing really floating around in my head- just a blank screen.
I only get vulnerable about my emotions and insecurities with those who I am really close to. The rest get random conversation starters from me. But it’s those random conversation starters that can help build actual relationships. And that’s the reason I don’t ask people how they are doing. Instead, as they tiredly hold a warm mug, they unexpectedly hear from me, “What flavor coffee creamer did you go with today?” I’d rather start in the middle of a conversation than a stage prop beginning.