Having grown up in the United States I’m used to the ritual greeting:
“How are you?”
Unless you have a close relationship with the other person, and time to get into the details, then you’re expected to answer, “Fine,” regardless of how you’re actually feeling, so that you can get on with (or over with) the interaction.
I think this underlies a deeper philosophy about life here, that the default of life is “fine,” rather than that life is hard — being an aware, feeling human being is hard. Feeling thirsty, getting wet in the rain, missing a deadline, our child crying, getting cut off in traffic, twisting our ankle running for the train, getting caught in an argument, getting sick, burning ourselves on the stove, bruises, mistakes, disappointments… Not to mention losing a job, or losing a loved one.
Navigating all the challenges of daily life along with societal pressures and the larger global realities is in fact really, really difficult, and how many of us are really “fine” unless we’re just numbing ourselves to all that?
And to say that life is hard isn’t to be negative, but to be honest. And kind.
It’s not to say that “life is hard, so deal with it,” but rather, “life is hard, so it’s okay to feel that it’s hard.”
It’s not to say that “life is hard, so we may as well not bother,” but rather, “life is hard, and I need to be honest about how hard it is, so that I can make a better life.”
It’s not to say that “life is hard, and if people suffer it’s just meant to be that way,” but rather, “life is hard for everyone, and we need to work together to make things better for everyone, including ourselves.”
The first step to shift from “Fine” to honest is building up our capacity to feel that life is hard, without giving up or becoming bitter. To develop the capability to feel that life is difficult, and exhilarating. That life is suffering, and joy. That life is painful, and beautiful. At the same time.
That these experiences of living fully are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually dependent.
Can we know exhilaration without difficulty, joy without suffering, or beauty without pain?
The more we feel, the more we feel. Of everything. It’s a package deal.
And from that feeling comes motivation, and from motivation, action to make life better. For everyone, including ourselves.5 June 2022