“Hi, how are you?” The young man at the grocery store asks.
“I’m fine, thank you.” I respond without even thinking about what I’m saying. It was a rehearsed answer that moved us both closer towards completing my grocery purchase.
“Eric, how are you?” I ask my son when I see him after school.
“I’m good.” He responds without really considering how he is feeling.
“Hello, how are you?” The barista at Starbucks asks me as she hands me my chai tea latte.
“I’m well, thank you.” I respond hoping that she will quickly hand me my drink so I can start my day.
What do you think would happen if I took the time in that Starbucks drive though, with a line around the building, to explain to the well trained barista that I have a head ache and am worrying about my daughter’s interaction with her friends on the playground; and I’m worrying about my sister, and I just really don’t have time today to focus on myself because of my busy schedule? I imagine that she might not ask the next person in line how they are.
Do you really mean it?
It seems to me that this question of “how are you” has some how replaced a genuine salutation and that we are all trained to ask this question when we come upon each other. I put the question “How are you?” under the microscope along with all of our well rehearsed answers and this is what I concluded.
We, as a general group of people, use a lot words in an attempt to make connection with each other, and sometimes there is no meaning within these words. I wonder why we bother going through the trouble of asking such a meaningful question as “How are you” when we don’t have time to truly listen to each other’s answer. Certainly, I think it’s a polite and well intentioned question, but at times, it appears artificial to me.
I think we ask the question “how are you” out of habit, discomfort and not paying attention. And this is desensitizing me to the care that most people want to express.
Throughout the day, I call people either to make a transaction, or to confirm the status of a project or to talk with a professional who has someone else answer their phone. When I make these calls, after we’ve exchanged hello’s, sometimes I feel uncomfortable with quickly moving on to the reason I called, so I ask “how are you?” Sometimes I want to know, and sometimes I don't know what else to do with that silent moment. It would be much more authentic of me to talk about my reason for calling, rather than spend their time and mine on words alone, words without meaning.
The Rehearsed Response
At times, answering the rhetorical question of “how are you” is equally awkward and unnatural. I noticed that when I don’t have time or want to explain my true feelings, like my example above with the barista at Starbucks, I simply answer, “I’m fine, thank you.” This isn’t always the truth, either. Sometimes my body is healthy and my emotions are a wreck. Sometimes my emotions are solid but I am having an allergy attack. Other than my family and close friends, are people really interested in those details? I’m not sure.
In my business, networking is highly valued. However, I don’t consider myself even slightly successful at networking, because I’ve looked at these greetings and rehearsed answers under the microscope and I crave authenticity and meaning when I’m with people.
“Nice to see you. Are you busy?” A colleague asks with a glass of wine in his hand.
“Yes we really are.” I answer.
“Well that’s a good problem to have, isn’t it?” He responds with a grin.
I disagree with wearing busy as a status symbol, but I know the rules of this game so I smile, nod and take a large gulp of my own glass of wine. The truth is when I’m busy, I don’t view it as a good problem. I usually feel tired, disconnected from my family and full of lack, but at a networking function, people aren’t usually interested in hearing these types of things.
The opportunity for self affirmation
I feel irritated when people ask me how I am, when they are clearly uninterested in the answer. I told this to my husband recently, and he suggested that I view this as an opportunity to make a personal affirmation. When someone asks how I am, and I respond with “I am good; thank you,” he suggests that I absorb that proclamation as a reminder to myself that I am good. I like that approach, and I do that sometimes like when I’m checking out at the grocery store and the young man asks how I am. I thank the Universe for sending me a reminder that “I am good.”
And now I feel like I want more. I don’t want to settle for a lack of authenticity from anyone, especially myself.
What will be my gesture as an acknowledgment of a fellow person’s arrival? Especially when I’m running through the drive through at Starbucks or picking up my dry cleaning in a hurry. I want to make a connection with people so that they feel like I see them, truly see them. I want to make a connection with people so that they feel I respect their work and appreciate the service they provide (even if it’s lacking grace).
Howdy (when I see my daughter, who refers to herself as a real cowgirl)
Waz Up (when I see my eighteen year old son)
I did promise a conclusion, didn’t I? Here is it.
When I look someone in the eyes and greet them, I acknowledge them as existing side by side with me. I honor their presence and importance, and this is meaningful to me. The divine connection we make is abundant on it’s own without any additional words. So I vow to not clutter our energy with an insincere question, but rather I honor our connection through eye contact and a genuine greeting. And when time is generous, I will genuinely ask how someone is feeling and carefully listen to them.
When I’m asked the question “how are you,” I respond with eye contact and an honest “I’m good (self affirmation) thank you for asking.” And by simply recognizing that this person wants to be seen and honored, all of the irritation disappears.
Until next time, farewell blog community!
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