How are you?
How. Are. You?
Not a simple question to answer, especially when it is asked in passing as a pleasantry rather than a real inquiry.
Generally, our response ranges from good to well, demanding on where we reside on the grammar scale – by the way, Grammar Girl states it’s okay to say good. Anyway, neither good nor well adequately describes the ebb and flow of our lives.
At any given time, we have a million and one things affecting how we feel. We worry. We’re anxious. We’re lonely. We’re unsure. We’re sad. And yet we keep all of it hidden. We settle for polite conversation rather than fulfilling our need for connection and understanding.
This really hit me hard Sunday afternoon at church as I stood at the door of the auditorium greeting people. So many faces showed signs of preoccupation, worry and stress. But when I asked how are you, everyone answered either I’m good or even worse, I’m fine. Perhaps this really struck me because I was just as guilty. If I were being honest, I would have said I’m struggling with being here today. Not only didn’t I feel very well, I was battling a wave of sadness. I felt as if I didn’t matter. I couldn’t help but wonder how many other people walking through the doors of the church felt the same way I did.
The church is supposed to be a place of comfort and grace, but we allow pleasantry to take the place of compassion or even love. We keep our deepest needs buried beneath a thinly veiled smile. That’s crazy!
Of course, I know it isn’t practical for everyone to stop and tell the greeter their problems. Nor should the greeter kill the vibe by sharing her woes. But where does pleasantry end and realness begin?
The problem may be we spend too much time worrying about appearances. We don’t want people to think poorly of us or to know we don’t have it all together, which creates a breeding ground for depression. Loneliness and despair often lead to a belief that we don’t matter, or worse that the world would be better off without us. And this feeling is only intensified when we think we are the only person who isn’t okay.
I’m particularly sensitive to this because of my loss, but that doesn’t alleviate the fact that too many people suffer in silence. And for some of them, like my son, it’s a matter of life and death.
We have got to move beyond the pleasantry of I’m fine, particularly with the people we are closest to. Ask deeper questions and be willing to listen. Share your own experiences with the ebb and flow of life.
A lot of this was swirling through my head as I stood at the door, and it all came to a head when one of the team leaders stopped to check how things were going. She asked me how I was doing. Rather than giving her a pat answer, I told her the truth. And to my surprise, she told me she wasn’t okay either. Her grandfather had died the week before and she was struggling with sadness and grief. Though brief, our honest conversation became an opportunity for us to comfort one another. And when she walked away, I truly felt better.
Maybe we can’t dive into every I’m good, but we can make a special effort with the people who we’re in relationship with, whether professional or personal. Ask follow-up questions. Or better yet, ask deeper questions which require real conversation. It may take more time, but it could make the difference between life and death.