Why Words Matter: On Speaking Your Truth
Last week I took my dad to the Emergency Room for a severe allergic reaction. This was our second such visit in a week. After several hours in the ER, he was admitted to the hospital and settled in. Since I’d been sitting there all day and hadn’t eaten much, my husband talked me into taking a break for an early dinner at my favorite restaurant in town, which just happened to be right down the hill from the hospital.
As the hostess led us to a table, she asked over her shoulder “How are you guys going today?” My husband answered “Fine, thanks,” at the same moment I began “We’re having a rough day. My dad is in the hospital and I’ve been sitting there all day, so we snuck out for some good food.”
As I slid into my seat, I caught a smirk on my husband’s face. The hostess slipped in a quick “I’m sorry to hear that, enjoy your meal,” before making a fast getaway.
“Does it make you uncomfortable when I talk to people like that?” I asked my husband.
“Not at all,” he said, reaching for a menu. “Just realize that most people don’t want to hear it.”
“Well she asked!” I pouted “She shouldn’t ask if she doesn’t want to hear the truth.”
“It’s her job to ask. It’s not her job to care.”
“Well it’s my job to tell the truth,” I persisted. “I’m not saying I’m fine when I’m not fine. It’s not for her, it’s for me.”
He nodded, “Okay then.”
Two days later, my dad was released, improved but still covered in hives. At our stop for prescriptions and groceries, the middle aged guy ringing up our purchases asked my dad “How are you today?”
My dad answered, “Itchy. But otherwise I’m good.”
The cashier kept his poker face, but I couldn’t help laughing, as I realized where I got my penchant for truth telling.
Often, people can’t handle it when I speak my truth. I suspect it’s because they’re uncomfortable speaking their own. I’ve been accused of “over-sharing” and other terms that put the blame on me for their discomfort.
If I tell the hostess I’m having a tough day and it makes her uncomfortable, that’s not my responsibility.
As I’ve been saying a lot lately, adulting is hard. Life is hard. Marriage, work, maintaining friendships, caring for aging parents, practicing self care — each is challenging on it’s own. Add all those things together and I feel like I’m getting pummeled by the world’s most difficult obstacle course.
If I’m having a rough day (week, month, moment) and I say “I’m fine” when I’m definitely not fine, I’m not only doing myself a disservice, I’m also discounting everyone else’s challenges.
When we speak the truth, whether it’s “I’m having a rough day” or “I’m struggling to care for my parent” or “My body hurts,” it gives others the opportunity to say “Hey, I’m dealing with that too and it sucks,” and allows for a moment of connection, no matter how brief.
My husband says most people don’t want to connect with others (particularly strangers) and maybe that’s true. But it’s not my place to make that decision for anyone else.
Speaking my truth through my written words has given me the courage and space to do the same with my spoken words and my actions.
So before you robotically answer “Fine, thanks” to the next inquiry you get, try saying what you’re really feeling and see what happens!