by Wendy Keller
My dear old friend is going through divorce after 20+ years. She’s got four teenagers and her soon-to-be-ex is being shady about the money. When I call her, she uses a fake chirpy voice to tell me everything is “going just great!” and then, within a few minutes, she remembers it’s me – and she starts telling the truth.
My friend Larry’s mother died suddenly in late February. Two weeks later, he was telling people, “Yeah, that was a rough couple days but I’m OK now.” That was a lie.
People like you and me who have stared down some awful thing in life – a death, a loss, being victimized, extreme illness or injury, financial devastation, some kind of major suffering – often keep a secret from the world. We tell people we’re “fine”. We lie that “things are OK now” when really, they are NOT. And they aren’t going back to “normal” or “before” or “the same” ever again. There’s enormous pressure in society to “fit in”. To be “OK”, to be “strong” for others. We’re pressured subtly to act like it’s OK.
Here’s a news flash: It’s NOT OK now.
We are trained to lie because that’s what is expected. People want us to be OK because our NOT being OK makes them uncomfortable. I say: tough luck. This is life. Join in or sit it out.
We MUST stop the lies if we hope to create a more compassionate world!
I’m not talking about the routine, “Fine, thanks. You?” we all say to the cashier at the grocery store or that one woman we often see in the elevator at work. I’m talking about people whose names we know.
When we lie, we are all complicit in this Big Cover-Up. If you lie now, while you’re going through hell, when it is your friend’s turn, he or she will be forced to lie to you, to keep the ball rolling. That way, everyone will feel isolated, alone, unsupported and afraid. That way, everyone who suffers will feel like they are the only one in the history of the world to carry such a burden.
“A burden shared is a burden halved.” — Unknown
I’m not suggesting you toss all your problems on the conveyor belt at the the supermarket. I’m suggesting that judiciously testing the waters will increase the number of people who can be present to support, comfort and love you through this time. One of the biggest surprises of my life when my children died was this: that some people I thought were “friends” disappeared; and some people I barely knew helped carry me through the worst days with more love, compassion and tenderness than I had assumed existed in the entire human race.
Want more support? Try this!
When next asked how you’re feeling, use one of these phrases to respond:
“Well, better than last week. How nice of you to ask.”
“It gets easier to bear as the days pass.”
“Thanks for asking. We’re so grateful for everyone’s concern.”
“Today has been one of my harder days, but I guess that’s to be expected.”
Test these or ones you create yourself.
What do answers like these do? If the person IS a compassionate person, and they ARE the kind of person who wants to help others, they will immediately ask you another question. It may even be, “What do you mean?” or “What happened?” People WANT to help one another. They WANT to be supportive. It’s ingrained in our DNA from living as hunter-gatherers. If the person is NOT likely to be compassionate, their own warning signals will go up in their head. They will “un-select” themselves. They’ll either unconsciously respond with, “Great!” (because they “didn’t hear you”) or “I’m so sorry” and then slap some stupid platitude on you. Like, “Time heals” or “He’s with Jesus now.” Whatever. You don’t have to worry that you are “burdening” those people. Those people can be skipped. They can’t be on your support team, and you need a support team. Not to dump on, but to hold up your spirits when you’re feeling low. That’s part of the human social system, and it’s your turn to receive.
Here’s a fluke I’ve noticed: when you bump into the Compassionate People, they will often tell you the most surprisingly candid things about themselves – things you’d never know if the Wall of Social Lies hadn’t been breached. I can’t begin to count how many times someone said to me, “Oh! My son died too when he was…” or “I got divorced last year. Is your ex being good to your daughter?”
Even among guys, there are many people of both genders who can and will offer support if you’re brave enough to give those who are compassionate a peek into your truth.
Let yourself risk being loved, supported, encouraged, helped by almost-strangers by telling the truth about your feelings whenever it is appropriate. Watch and see it change not just your place in the world, but how you feel about humanity in general. Your day to support and love someone else will come soon enough. For now, let yourself float on a whole planet full of love, kindness and compassion. I promise you it is there if you open yourself up to seeing it.
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“The Top Ten Tips to Coping with Crisis” today!