“How are you? How’s it going?” Do you really want to know? Do you stop what you’re doing and listen to the answer?
Growing up in St. Lucia, I heard my grandmother and her contemporaries asking each other “how are you”, usually in creole. The response was almost always “mwen la” which literally translates to “I’m there”. Invariably, the adult would proceed to list all their ailments: knee pain, trouble sleeping, and other health or family struggles. With children, the response would often be “I’m okay”. We weren’t expected to have health or other problems as children. In North America, this seem to extend to everyone.
Friends in Japan remarked how strange it was for people to ask how are you and not seem to care about the answer. People in the Czech Republic have mentioned the same. They’re confused by the question, and the expected response of “I’m fine”. What if you’re not fine. Is anyone listening, and do they even care?
Think back. Have you ever asked how are you and kept walking away? Has there ever been a time when you didn’t listen to the answer? What’s your default, automatic response when someone asks you the question? How would you feel if a casual acquaintance or a colleague took the opportunity to share the challenges that they are facing with you in response?
Examining the Habit
Now feels like a good time to change the habit, to look someone in the eye when you ask how are you. And if you’re physically distant from the person, then at least stop what you’re doing and listen to their answer. Listen closely to discover any nuance. Acknowledge what the person has shared. Empathize with them. And if they ask, or seem open to it, offer to help if you are able to. I know for me, often when I share something, I’d like to be acknowledged even when I’m not looking for a solution.
Let’s start simply. Ask yourself: “How am I doing today?” “What can I do to feel well and healthy?” Spend a few minutes practising RAIN. If you feel like you can’t spare a few minutes, then take a few seconds and recognize the truth of how you’re feeling, and give yourself some kindness.
Take care of yourself. Stay safe. Stay healthy.