STOP SAYING “I’M GOOD.” Despite its obvious grammatical issues, it is an extremely vague and lazy way to describe a state of being. Not to mention it is oftentimes a lie.
This idea was originally proposed to me by a 55-year old Brazilian woman called Babechi. I was her tennis coach a few summers ago; we spent hours together on the court as the sun beat down on us, silently swinging away at a little yellow ball. One day, instead of bantering solely via crosscourt groundstrokes and swinging volleys, we actually got to talking. I enjoy Babechi because she gets straight to the point. I forget now how this topic arose, but my Brazilian friend confided to me about her frustration with American “fineness.” To her, we all seem so emotionless. She contrasted the American straight face and inevitable “I’m good” to her native Brazil, where people cry when they are sad and dance when they are happy, audience and propriety be damned. She told me not to let the world dull my emotions and advised that I always be honest with myself and with others about all things, especially my emotions. At the time, I was amused and perplexed by her perspective. It seemed like places where people walked around crying and said what they actually thought at all times would be utter bedlam. “That’s no place I would want to live”, I thought. Why should I be subject to everyone’s slightest emotional whims?
While this interaction seemed so innocuous then, it often pops into my head at the most unexpected times. After 21 years of conforming to our social standard of “fineness,” I have decided that it is time to be honest with myself and honest with those around me. As a human, I simply can’t be “good” all the time. There are times when I’m simply not “fine,” so why do I act like it?
I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory answer to this question. So I stopped conforming to the standard. Now, when people ask me how I am, I don’t (always) flash them my winningest smile and utter the obligatory “doing well, how are you?” In most situations, sincerity has become my new default. When the universe seems to be showing me no love, I say, “it’s actually not a great day, but hopefully it will get better. How are you doing?” While I can tell some people are very caught off-guard by this approach, I am thoroughly enjoying the results. Adversity reveals authenticity and abandoning “fineness” definitely has its advantages, which, in my experience, usually come in the form of broadened perspectives and stronger relationships.
My friend Ilhana is an excellent example of the benefit of emotional honesty. We used to work at an ice cream shop together and I still visit her whenever I walk by. We don’t see each other much outside of that environment, so on a recent visit she asked me how my winter break went. With my terse response of “ehh it was ok,” she could tell something was very wrong and did not hesitate to ask why. Even though I hesitated, she urged me to open up, wanting to know what was on my mind and if or how she could help. She was genuinely concerned and I was pleasantly surprised. Is that why we always resist divulging our less-than-best emotions? Because we are worried people won’t care?
Or is it because we think people won’t understand? Why do we always think our own hardships are so unique? Ilhana helped get my revelation rolling, but my friend Sarah brought it to maximum velocity. While I was still struggling with the death of my grandmother, I happened to mention it once while hanging out with a group of my friends, including Sarah. Like Ilhana, Sarah is an amazing person, but we don’t see each other much. The next time I saw Sarah and we weren’t surrounded by twenty of our drunkest friends, she mentioned that her mother recently died. My difficulty was immediately dwarfed. A surprisingly real conversation ensued, the raw and emotional type that doesn’t normally happen with a person you haven’t known intimately for many years. We bonded over shared difficulty. But we didn’t commiserate; our conversation had decidedly more supportive and helpful vibes. Only after my talk with Sarah did I realize how much strength it took for both of us to be so candid and understanding about such difficult situations.
This is one of the few things I know for absolute certain: There can be no progress without vulnerability. Vulnerability invites identification, which breeds goodwill and a willingness to help. Vulnerability also has the added perk of teaching you very quickly who is worth keeping around. The only people I want in my life are those that care. Those that don’t let me brush it off. Those that thank me for sharing and feel grateful that I opened a pathway of communication for them to share too.