A recent goal of mine is to become better at saying what I mean and meaning what I say. Once in a blue moon, I meet someone who has a profound ability to articulate themselves with razor-sharp clarity. They leave zero room for misunderstanding and doubt. They are absolutely sure about what they wish to express, and are not afraid to convey honest thoughts or feelings to others.
The other day, I watched a discussion between Ayishat Akanbi, a fashion stylist and cultural commentator, and Alain de Botton, the British-Swiss philosopher and founder of The School of Life. One of Ayishat’s many insightful remarks was that we know ourselves from the inside out, yet often forget that we only know others by what they choose to show on the outside.
And what we choose to show, usually conveyed through words, has to be filtered through layers of self-doubt, half-formed thoughts and our own ability to articulate a whole smorgasbord of ideas and emotions.
In other words, the signal is multiple times removed from the source. Compounded onto these barriers to clear expression are the cultural niceties that engulf so much of social interaction these days. Pack them all together and we’re left with a rather diluted, wooly, unimaginative distortion of one another’s reality.
I always look to Americans and their reflexive “How are ya” as the epitome of this social tragedy. When I first arrived in the US, bless my soul, I would actually reply to this greeting with, “I’m well, thank you, and how are y–” only to realise I was interrupting my counterpart’s follow-up, “And will you be paying with cash or card?”
It turns out these seemingly friendly strangers had absolutely no interest in how I was, and did not expect a reply. On the rare occasions I found the time to squeeze in a reciprocal “... and how are you?”, I could sense the startled response. There would be a pause. They’d glance up to the source of the strange question and their face would light up – as if being asked how one’s day was going was a rare and outdated courtesy.
But how are you, really? 👀
Imagine if we started asking the question “How are you” with a sincere expectation of an honest reply. And imagine if our replies lived up to that expectation.
“I’m feeling lonely.”
“Something’s been bugging me all day.”
“I really just want to curl up in bed right now.”