I recently put out a little request on facebook for opinions about hair color. Other than a summer stint with sun-in and red henna when I was a teenager, I've spent my life my natural color. Born with a head covered in strawberry blonde (my birthfather is a red-head through and through and my birth mother is of native american ancestry) I have been totally happy with sporting around in the color that magically happens to be exactly what color I'm supposed to sport around in. About ten years ago, a few shimmering strands of silver started popping up all over my head and, though I do not mind them taking up residence one speck, I've wondered if the mass collection right at the edge of my forehead where my natural part lies might be contributing to the occasional greeting I get that includes "you look tired". Like maybe it washes out my face flush or brings out the dark circles under my eyes. You know, like bad color combinations. The suggestions, opinions, and comments were all over the place.
Anyway, even before I received this penny-sized comment enough times that I could collect them all and tile my entire kitchen floor with them, I always knew that it didn't feel good for ME to say to others. I did it a time or two and immediately felt like I just threw a little stink bomb and then ran. Because that's exactly what that comment does (which can also be substituted with "you look sick")
Let's explore this penny-tiled room for a minute, shall we?
There are countless reasons why someone might look tired:
They are raising a large herd of childrenThe one child they are raising is giving them hell
They are lonely/overwhelmed/worried/afraid and it shows up in their eyes
They ate a dinner with way too much salt the night before
Their lovedone is going through something very difficult
Their schedule is cram packed with enough for an army to do
They are fighting a sinus infection
They are part of a family pathology of exhausting co-dependence
They might have been generously gifted with genetic fat pockets under their eyes
They need more sleep...they ARE tired. Because we all live in a world where being well rested is getting harder and harder (hello social media pull, 24 hour electromagnetic waves, chemicals in the air/food, societal pressures to meet certain ever-rising bench marks of worthiness, etc.)
The list goes on. Not one of these problems is helped by saying "you look tired" and never, in my opinion, is it the kind thing to say even if you are a devotee of brutal honesty. I find it interesting that so many of us think that it is okay to say it to our closest kindreds - our family, our best friends, our spouse - because we are the ones who they lean on the most to honor them. We are the ones who they trust to see through the surface layer of tired to the heart of what they really need and when we don't, when we let the trap of what they look like in that moment cause us to be blind to see what might be underneath it, it can feel like a tiny, almost intelligable, betrayal.
We don't mean to, certainly. We care. We want those we love to feel vibrant, alive, rested, capable, beautiful. So, if you happen to be interested in some other (more truthful and kind) options to say to someone when your auto-response might be "you look tired", here's a little list of some alternatives:
How are you?Is there anything I can do for you in this moment to bring a little sunshine to your day?
Would it help if I __________ so you could rest for a while?
I can see that you have a lot on your plate. You're doing amazing.
I can see that you have a lot on your plate. Is there anything I can do to ease the load?
Thank you for all you do.
It's obvious that you care so deeply for others. What do you do to care for yourself?
What makes you feel alive?
Can I bring you a glass of water?
Let me take care of that.
You do so much. It's more than enough.
It is so. good. to see you.
Refrain from launching into your schpeel about how your new $80 eye cream keep your eyes so bright and vibrant, about how your workout routine is the best, about how ridding your diet of meat/grains/sugar/cocaine has really made you look incredible, about how you have this amazing plastic surgeon that could get you in and out in no time. Refrain from finding villians in their life you think they need to set straight/kick out/turn in. It's not your journey.
These people...us...we who look tired, we're figuring all that stuff out. We're playing with all the cards we have on the table that started collecting there from maybe before we were even born. We might be in a season of life that is just plain exhausting that just has to play itself out. We want to feel alive and vibrant and at home in our own bright eyes and we want to trust that you see that person we are before we even do. We'll come to new insights and ideas of better self care by watching you do the same for yourself. We'll ask about it when we're ready to digest it. We'll pick your brain for menus/potions/schedule adjustments to the degree we see them working for you. Our tired eyes are still open, taking notes, and looking for a better way.
Mostly, it's not that big of a deal if it slips out. I can shake off "you look tired" even it if stings a little (because i know it's true) AND I can still like the person who says "you look tired" just as much as I did the second before she said it because I know it isn't intended to sting. We're all on the learning curve of communication. Even still, I challenge all who read this, to rid those three words from your vocabulary and replace them with something kinder. Something softer. Something useful.