I meet somebody, I say, "Hello, what's up?"
They say, "Not much, how about you?"
I say, "I'm cool, thanks"
They say, "That's great, but you look so tired."
"Oh, you look so tired" I must hear that 4 or 5 times a week. I think I hear it more than most people because of a simple genetic quirk which you can see in this photo from my childhood:
Now in this photo, I am two or three years old, and you can see that I have little wrinkles under my eyes, with some dark shading under the wrinkles. I can assure I was not a tired, overworked 2 year old, and that this stuff under my eyes is just part of my face. Here's a more recent picture of me, and you can see I've kept the baggy eyes...
So I understand why people think I "look tired." And I think that usually the speaker is trying to say that I am a hard worker and it's good that I'm busy. But let's just think about the two possible outcomes of saying, "Oh, you look so tired"
- Situation 1: You really are tired, you've been working your ass off, or your sick, or you're having some kind of tough emotional situation and you're not sleeping well. In which case, do you really want to hear that you look as bad as you feel? Would you ever say to someone struggling with their weight, "Dude, you look fat?"
- Situation 2: You're actually feeling pretty good. Maybe like me you have baggy eyes, or you went to a great party the night before and are still feeling good. So you're bopping along, and suddenly you hear "You look so tired", which basically says, "You sure don't look as good as you feel." So you're thinking, damn, if they say I'm looking tired when I feel good, I must really look like crap when I'm actually tired!
- Situation 1: You feel terrible. But someone says, "Hey, that shirt really suits you." All of a sudden your whole mindset changes. Yeah, you're life is going down the toilet, but hell, you've got a shirt that really suits you! You're actually pretty damn cool.
- Situation 2: You're feeling great. Someone says, "Those shoes are awesome, where'd you get them?" You're feeling even better! Of course she likes your shoes, what's there not to like, you're such a hip and happening person!
Of course we all know this. From childhood we're taught the lesson that "If you can't find something nice to say don't say anything at all." But I would like us to take a less school-marmish approach to this rule of thumb.
Really, it's all about Right Speech, one of the tenants of Buddhism's Eightfold Path to wisdom. Right Speech is much, much subtler than being honest, or not gossiping. It's about being aware of the implications of your speech, however small. In itself, "You look so tired" is not a mean thing to say, in fact it could come from a place of compassion. But we need to step back and try to consider how our words will be heard from the other end, like we've done in our Situation 1 and 2 above. This is moving towards mindful speech, which, if practiced daily, will transmute into Right Speech.
We all have our own communication styles that hurt others without us even knowing it. For example, when I am teaching a beginning yoga student I give them a lot of encouragement and positive feedback, but as they progress and get fitter and more flexible, I give them more criticism and technical details. As a result, one student told me recently that in fact he felt he was getting worse, when just the opposite is true, simply because I hadn't told him how great he was doing recently.
So let's pay a little closer attention to how our language affects those around us and try to introduce as many (+s) into the day as possible!
Now I'm going to sleep, cause, man... I look tired.