I’ve been having a lot of conversations with different people recently about authenticity and communication. I know authentic communication is hard. I know vulnerability is scary. But I’d really, really like to live in a world in which we are all free to be open, emotional, honest and just plain real in our interactions, with cultural norms that affirm that freedom. I am consciously working on the finding right ways to go about building that world, and here are the ones that have helped me the most:
- Say what you actually mean. It isn’t anyone’s job to read your mind. You do not owe anyone your honesty, but they also don’t owe you the effort of trying to discern what you mean if you don’t tell them.
- Take people at their word. It is their responsibility to say what they mean. It is not your responsibility to figure out what they mean. Expecting anyone to “read between the lines” of what you’re saying can lead you down a very dangerous rabbit hole wherein you’re expressing that your words don’t need to be respected.
- Understand that other people’s judgments of you are their business, not yours. Likewise, your judgments of other people are your business, not theirs. If someone judges you and you deem that judgment worthy of consideration, only then does it become your business.
- Know that no one is obligated to engage with you, speak to you, or interact with you simply because you want them to. You are not obligated to engage with anyone, speak to anyone, or interact with anyone simply because they want you to.
- Stop apologizing for how you feel. You feel what you feel because you feel it, and there is no right or wrong way to feel about anything. Note: feeling something is not the same as acting on that feeling.
- Don’t expect anything from other people unless they’ve consented to it. No one owes you anything, and you don’t owe anyone anything. There are so many assumptions we regularly make about what other people ought to provide for us, but unless they say they’ll do something, don’t expect that they will. Certainly don’t hold other people to your own assumptive expectations. No, cultural norms are not the same as consent!
- Choosing not to engage with someone does not make you rude, or mean, or in any way a bad person. It’s your space/time/energy/effort/attention, and it’s yours to do with as you see fit.
- You don’t get to decide for someone else what they need. If you feel you need something from someone else and that person does not feel that they need to give it, then you don’t actually need that thing from them. Figure out the root feeling that’s causing the need and find another way to satisfy it.
- If you’re unsure whether someone wants to engage with you, ask them. Don’t make assumptions.
- Stop doing so much emotional labor for other people. If someone comes to you with an emotional problem and you’re in a space to help, feel free to! But it is not your responsibility to try and “crack their shell,” or “fix” them, especially if they haven’t asked you to.
- Start doing more emotional labor for yourself. Figure out what needs are causing your feelings, and what feelings are causing your needs. Don’t shut you off from yourself. Dig deep into your emotions, understand their roots and their expressions, and take more responsibility for them.
- Lean into your vulnerability. When you’re scared to say something, try saying it because you are afraid to do so. Taking the plunge to open yourself to someone is often the first step to a far truer, more beautiful connection.
- Try treating everyone as though they’re telling the truth, even if you feel that they’re not. Don’t use your energy reinforcing inauthentic behavior. Remember: it is not your job to read between their lines.
- On the flip side, commend or thank people for their authenticity and honesty. Opening up to people takes guts, especially in cases where being honest makes the person feel vulnerable. The safer we make each other feel in being authentic, the easier it becomes for all of us to be authentic.
- Consider the world you want to create in everything that you do. Think about the cultural ramifications of your actions, no matter how small they may seem. Ask yourself how the world would be if everyone acted in this way. Then, act.
I know I want to see a world with more authenticity, and honesty, and openness, and freedom. A world with more emotional literacy, where talking about feelings and needs is normal and affirmed. A world where people take more responsibility for their own feelings and less responsibility for those of other people. A world with less judgment. A world with fewer lies. A world where consent is the basis of everything and respect is universal and automatic.
I want to see a world where being vulnerable isn’t so scary anymore. Or maybe, where being honest doesn’t make you so vulnerable.
A world where we can feel whatever the hell we feel, and that’s okay.
So if you’re with me, let’s all try to express a little more and judge a little less. I know it’s hard. I know it’s often terrifying. But the world could be so, so much better for it.