We communicate in cliches for a myriad of reasons. Some of
these reasons are simple and valid, while others are
The simplest and most valid reason is that cliches are powerful
in helping us make initial connections with people and in helping
us to maintain a connection with people at a certain level. Asking
someone, “How are you?” is perhaps the simplest and most common
way to begin a conversation. Making that person feel that you
are actually interested in hearing the answer is the key to intimacy.
Let’s face it, when most people ask, “How are you?” they are just
being polite and they expect you to reply in cliche form by saying,
“Fine!” or “Great!” Cliches are great conversation starters, but if
they don’t lead anywhere over time they become shallow and superficial,
and they fail to quench our thirst for intimacy.
At the same time, a cliche can be used to kill a conversation.
Those who are indifferent, selfish, or afraid become experts at employing
the cliche to destroy any chance of meaningful communication.
For example, a wife may ask her husband, “What did you
think of what happened in Europe today?” and he replies, “It is
what it is!” Another example might be a father trying to begin a
discussion with his teenage child by asking, “Do you still feel like
you can come and talk to your mother and me?” The child replies,
“Whatever!” On paper these conversations seem harsh and rude,
but they are becoming commonplace in more and more relationships
that are perceived by the outside world as being functioning,
healthy, and normal. I assure you, such exchanges are anything but
functioning, healthy, and normal. They are a sign of deeply fractured
relationships that are desperately in need of attention.
The young people of today have perfected this form of communication
and transmuted it into a form of noncommunication,
with the creation of cliches such as “ What’s up?” and “Whatever!”
It is also interesting to note that teens usually use cliches to avoid
deeper levels of communication with the adults in their lives, and
that they communicate very differently with friends within their
Why do so many teenagers communicate in this way with
most of the adults in their life? Sometimes it is because they feel
that if they do communicate in any meaningful way they will be
judged or criticized. They sense that they will not be accepted for
who they are. Perhaps they communicate in this way because they
feel that nobody understands them, and most are unwilling to try.
Others may resort to the constant use of cliches to communicate
because they believe (consciously or subconsciously) that everything
within them is worthless and pathetic. Some are lazy and indifferent
to others. Still others are so completely self - absorbed that
they find communicating with others to be boring and a waste of
The reasons adults have are startlingly similar. We are afraid of
being judged and criticized. We sense that we are not accepted and
are afraid of being rejected. We feel that nobody understands us
and that most people are more interested in being understood
themselves than they are in trying to understand us. Secretly we all
carry with us a shame, and at times believe that we are worthless
and pathetic. We are lazy. We are indifferent. We are self - absorbed.
Cliches are safe. We cling to them for that reason. But when
they are overused in a relationship that deserves to enjoy greater
depth of intimacy, cliches keep us at arm’s length from the one
thing we cannot live happily without.
From The Seven Levels of Intimacy
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