Closely aligned with Mindfulness are the notions of honesty, sincerity and authenticity. Mindfulness is partly about – to use the hippy vernacular of the 1960s – getting real, being real and keeping it real.
But many of us start the morning and continue throughout the day telling others and ourselves little untruths. Sometime they’re called “social lies” or “white lies.” Many consider them harmless. But are they? Or do they cause little distortions in our social system that accumulate like little bits of malignant bacteria, resulting in distance and even alienation from others and even from ourselves? Do they make our day-to-day lives less genuine, more fake?
When asked “How are you?” most people will respond along a boisterously positive and narrow continuum that starts with the base position “fine,” escalating to “excellent, “great” and ultimately to “fantastic!” A lot of this is culturally dependent. The inflation in reporting positive mental states is particularly prevalent in the U.S.
Insincere social niceties are often very different elsewhere, with some countries expressing quite a bit more negativity when responding to another’s greeting. In Britain, many people also reply “fine,” but a sizable minority say “not too bad.” That’s a curious response because taken literally, it means things are indeed negative, but they are bearably so. In Germany, people will frequently tell it exactly like it is, occasionally with too much information. Asked “how is it going?” quite a few Germans will say “it’s a bit difficult at the moment” and sometimes continue with a litany of highly specific complaints.
Back on the relentlessly sunny shores of the United States, an even more insincere – and frankly annoying – reply has emerged in recent years: “It’s all good!” But this state of affairs is very, very rarely literally true. Except maybe for rambunctious twenty-somethings in perfect health and in fulfilling, secure employment who are so self-absorbed that they don’t understand what’s going on in the lives of their less lucky friends, their older relatives and their countrymen inhabiting different social milieus.