The Epidemic of Forced Kindness

Charles Muller, ’19

“Hi, how are you?” The storekeeper asks as my friends and I walk into the store right off of Central Park.

“Good, thanks. How are you?” My friend, Noah, instinctively replies. The shopkeeper doesn’t answer as she tends to the next customer.

We were at the store that afternoon because Noah wasn’t feeling very well. If he had answered her question genuinely, he might’ve told her that he had a cold and New York wasn’t treating him so well.

The problem here is that, in an attempt to feel as if strangers share a common humanity, we end up acting like robots.

We as a culture want to pretend that we care about everyone’s well being. Asking the question makes us feel kind and neighborly. Within the question, though, is forced positivity. You are forced to say “good” because you understand that the barista making your iced coffee doesn’t want to know how you’re really feeling. Employers instruct their workers to show the same professional positivity, so we all display the same false positivity that seems to each of us like the right way to act. It may be scary for many to know that, in all reality, they do not care about a stranger’s feelings; it may make some feel unkind. The truth is, it’s common to only care about your friends, and not about the stranger in a store.

There are many times I’ve had a bad day, feeling anxious or upset and been asked “How are you?” by someone who doesn’t want to hear my true answer to that question. But, I wish I could tell them the truth. This question is more important than the way we treat it. Opening up to people requires trust and security that generic interactions can never develop.

Despite the pessimism many feel from our current political climate, our culture still forces positivity. Everyone just wants to be happy. “I want to marry a nice girl and be happy” “I want my kids to be happy” Happiness is a wonderful thing and it’s understandable why everyone seeks it. The issue here is the lack of emotional intelligence. “Negative” emotions like sadness, anger, disgust, and fear all have value for us each day. Yet, we often treat them as doomsday scenarios. Sadness can heal painful moments. Sometimes we just need to laugh to feel better, but other days a good cry can make a huge difference.

We are taught to be kind and compassionate, but when a question of well-being has become a greeting synonymous with “Hey” we have lost the value in sharing our pain and real experience. If we are forced to lie to to an acquaintance almost on a daily basis, openness with those we love and care about becomes more difficult. A disconnect of sorts arises.

You could talk about how broken your heart is about that guy or girl, but instead, you just say, “Game of Thrones was crazy last night!” We disconnect ourselves more and more from the people who are there to listen to us when we are forced to find something positive to talk about (and that’s all if we choose to say more than a blatant, “good”

People are afraid to realize that they don’t care about everyone else’s day. But it’s the truth is it’d be better to save our ears and stories for those who genuinely care. Either stop asking the question or be unafraid, to tell the truth. Because the truth is, it’s okay to tell someone that you aren’t just fine.

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