Honest Communication or Platitudes?


I have often questioned how humans communicate.  What we speak or what is left unsaid.  How we interpret and negotiate meaning.  Words or behavior.

And the pundits conduct research to study people, their words and behavior, and come up with theories as to hows and whys and what we can expect given statistical evidence.

Ack! Even as I write, I find myself analyzing what will be the most effective way to say what I want to say, taking care not to write something to offend or make anyone someone uncomfortable.

Last month in the A to Z in April Blogging Challenge in “H is for Honesty.” I suggested that “(Lying) rob(s) us of self-respect, trust of others, joy and freedom…”   (Click the hyperlink for the original.)

I also said, “Honesty is vital to claiming who we truly are and what we want in life and with the others in it.”

Honest communication is much more than a simple choice of words. We consider intent, risk, value and respect (or lack thereof) for others, our view of self, and so much more before we justify or rationalize what we say and how we say it.

And sometimes, we say things without any consideration.  Saying things out of habit.  Just because. And I am guilty, as charged, of participating  in my share of it.

“Platitude: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true.” ~ H. L. Mencken

I am tired of meaningless conversation. 

Canned questions and answers that rival a well-stocked pantry with No. 2 cans. (I’m showing my age with that metaphor.)

Question: “How are you?”

Response: “Great!”

Truth be told, both question and response can be rather trite.

We ask questions, not really wanting to hear the truth.  We answer, not wanting to “go there.” So, we simply act like we are engaged in conversation with someone else who (like us) is not willing to be genuine and vulnerable.

Consider this more genuine interchange:

Friend #1:  “How are you?”

Friend #2:  “Honestly, I’m having a really shitty day. I’ve been putting in long days so I don’t have to go back to an empty apartment.   I miss my kids. I’m having a hard time remaining civil around my ex-wife because I see her having moved on without me. I’ve tried moving on and dated a little, but I picked a real ‘doozy.’

I’m afraid to trust anyone.  I am not sure I trust myself.  I’m sad, I’m lonely and I put on a “happy face” around people. The truth is I’m really hurting and am not having much fun.”

Friend #1:  “I’m so sorry you’ve had that kind of day.  I thought my day was bad when the dog puked on the carpet this morning, had to clean it up, and then I picked up a nail in my tire and was late for work. It sounds like we could both use a little break from it all.

If you don’t have any plans after work, how about we go to the gym for a couple of hours? I still owe you one after the last beating I took on the court from you!”

This kind of communication requires us to be able to be vulnerable, compassionate, and genuine. It requires us to be truthful with ourselves and one another.

It does not mean we need to be an “open book” with people we do not know, nor those who have hurt us deeply.  We certainly must learn to set honest boundaries.

Learning to be vulnerable, set boundaries, and say what we want to say from “heart” is not an easy task.  It is too easy to fall into old habits. And we most often do it when we use the words…

“I love …!” 

Ice cream. Baseball. Chevy cars. Chocolate. (Fill-in the blank.)

We throw around the word “love” so often that its meaning has been lost convoluted where it counts the most. What means something to one person means nothing to the other.

We say, “I love you,” but our behavior speaks a different message.

We respond out of obligation.  To avoid feeling vulnerable.  Repeat phrases spoken to us in response, rather than initiating words that may make us feel raw and exposed.

Is it any wonder that so many are confused?  That there are so many hurt feelings? That we have such difficulty understanding one another? That so many families are broken apart? Friendships estranged? Romantic fires doused?

“Say what you mean. Mean what you say.”  (Author unknown)

Communication is not always easy, that is for certain.  At work.  At home.  At play. Between acquaintances. Friends. Family. Lovers.

We must attempt to make our thoughts, wants and concerns known to others who speak a different “language” from us based on our individual experiences and style.

Stop with the platitudes. 

Platitudes become the very reason that people will stop believing the words and believe only the actions.

They do nothing more than keep us in a constant state of grief, anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, guilt and shame. It pushes us toward unfulfilled desires and dreams of connection, love and pure joy in life.

We stop ourselves from experiencing all the things we say that we truly want from life with healthy, like-minded people who will laugh, cry, share and love with us.

Risk more. Learn to trust. Speak the truth.

Be honest.

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9 thoughts on “Honest Communication or Platitudes?

  1. I love your perspective. I am totally guilty of both platitudes and LOVING everything. I’ll try to be better about being honest but i don’t know how much I’ll be able to dial down my loving 🙂

  2. Jeremy

    Hi Coral, Long time no speak! A common response to “how are you” is fine. Like it is the genetically programmed human response. Do people who ask “how are you” really care to know how we are when asking? And is the answer fine really a true and heart felt answer? I was once told fine meant Friend I Need Encouragement! If that is the case I say the next time someone tells us fine we pause and ask how can I encourage you today.

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