Stop Speaking in Code

The other weekend my wife and I enjoyed some much needed beach time with our toes in the sand watching the waves crash onto the shore. As we lazily sat in our chairs soaking up the sun and breathing in the salty air, we noticed a girl approaching that we recognized, which is not all that uncommon since we do live beside the beach. She stopped to say hello and we casually asked her how things were going with her. To our surprise, she told us. Everything. I mean, she let us know where she had been so far this summer, who she hung out with, how her parents were doing, etc.

She didn't give the typical answers, "Things are good...I'm fine...been busy..." No, she actually answered the question that we asked her. Which was surprising, because normally when we ask people how they are doing we don't really find out how they are doing because they typically don't tell us how they are doing, because that's not really what we want to hear, right? Instead, we expect some stock answer that is more of like a return wave of the hand when someone waves at you. Yet hearing this young woman tell us exactly how she was doing was so refreshing and real and awesome. Be careful what you ask!

That begs the question: Why do we always seem to speak in "code" to each other? You know what I mean, right? Those answers we give that really aren't indicative of how things truly are but rather are shortcuts for us not wanting to take the time to give the honest answer. Oh I know, when someone asks you how things are going, they don't REALLY want to know, do they? Or do they?

What if we did away with these code words that we use and instead chose to be really honest with how we feel with each other. Yes, that would be awkward at times, yet it would also allow our defenses to come down and we could actually get to know people. And have real conversations. And maybe even make some new friends.

Here's what I propose - let's identify some of the code words that we use in our lives and seek to abolish them from our vocabulary. Here's a few to help you get started:
  • Busy - When you say that we are busy, that really means that you don't want to take the time to tell someone else what is happening in your life, or maybe even there are so many unimportant things competing for your time that it would be pointless to even share them. Sometimes we say that we are "super busy", which is a nice way of saying that I really don't have time to tell you what's going on in my life. Either way, busy is a code word we use when we want to remain detached from others.
  • Fine - I'll admit, this one drives me bonkers. Fine describes the grit on sandpaper or the tip of a ball point pen, not your emotional state. Fine is an excuse for not wanting to share what is really happening in your life, which in turn reveals that things in your life aren't all that great. When I hear fine, I automatically want to know what's wrong with someone, because fine is a few steps below good - which is also a code word, but is a little less meaningless that fine.
  •  Relevant - This one is for all my church friends out there. Relevant is a word that we use to defend our assertion that we don't like the way our church is doing things, but it can also mean the opposite - that what we are doing is better than what other churches are doing. Either way, relevant is one of those hip words that fits into our cultural context that we aren't quite able to adequately define but will certainly know when it's not there. If something isn't relevant, then that means I don't have to commit to it.
Any of those hit home with you? I know I stand guilty. So let's agree on something together, okay? Let's do away with using these kinds of code words when we are communicating with real live people. What other code words have eased their way into your vocabulary?

It's okay to share who you are when others ask. If they don't want to know then believe me, they won't ask you a second time! And the next time you encounter someone and are about to ask one of those loaded questions, be prepared just in case they actually give you a heartfelt answer. 

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