Thursday, January 30, 2014

Two Faces and Attitudes

I read something my grandma reposted on Facebook a while back. The story was written by a son about his mom who abused him and then turned around and put on a big smiley face for someone at the door or on the phone. Because of his mother's behavior, this person vowed to be honest and vulnerable about his feelings.

Tonight, my friend Kristen said she heard the hostess at a restaurant ask a woman how her day was. The woman rolled her eyes and said, "Ugh, don't even ask!"

I'm sure countless times in your life you have told someone asking that you are "fine" when really you feel like this

Are you catching onto my topic yet?

This story my grandma shared caused me to think hard about how we should answer, and when or if there is harm in being two-faced. Or, if you answer that you're fine when you aren't, are you even being two-faced?

For example, my grandpa suffered with stage four lung cancer for quite some time. When people asked him how he was doing, no matter how awful he felt, how little sleep he got, or how much he had been coughing, he always answered, "I'm great!"

Is this the same as the abusive mother in the story? I don't think so at all. I think in acting differently, or in putting on a happy face, your motives are what determine whether it's right or not. She acted in deception, to pretend like she was a different (better) person than she was. My grandpa answered as a means of survival, to lift himself up along with everyone around him.

I think that for the sake of survival and getting by, it can be OK for you to answer that you're doing better than you really are. For some, saying, "I'm fine," is a way to avoid having a meltdown to a total stranger. That probably wouldn't be appropriate, or comfortable, for the people involved. And sometimes, if you say something positive enough, it causes you to think it, and then believe it. Maybe you're trying to make yourself feel better, and hey, it works! Fake it till you make it, right?

I do think there's something to be said for the author's resolve in that little story. Being completely honest and vulnerable with people makes it so that we can connect to one another. How can you cheer somebody up if you don't know that they are struggling? How can you relate to others if they act like their life is perfect all the time? How can anyone show compassion if we never see others struggle?

And then, in what situations is it OK to be completely honest like the author wants to be? I wouldn't say it's appropriate with the hostess at a restaurant who my friend Kristen witnessed. The woman responded with a rude tone. Then the pressure was on for the hostess to follow-up and ask why it was terrible, or to frown in sympathy and say, "Well, I hope your night gets better." These would have been reasonable responses, but also probably still a little shallow in their ability to comfort her. Wouldn't the woman have found more solace if she had expressed her frustration and sadness to a loved one or friend? Or maybe her day was so bad, she just couldn't wait until then to express her feelings.

In short, as usual, the answer always depends on the situation. Each situation is different. Each person's motive is different. Each person's response is different, depending on their needs and comfort level. Responding with, "I'm fine," can be just as good as being totally vulnerable and honest in your responses. We shouldn't judge, no matter what someone's response.

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