It’s funny how sometimes I get an idea for a post but am not always sure how to write it out clearly. When those moments happen, I often write a note and keep it nearby on my writing table. Or I just let it shift around in my head, mixing with other words and experiences until, like a snowball rolling downhill, it picks up the momentum it needs from its surroundings and ends up larger than life.
This is that sort of post. For nearly a week, I’ve been struck with how often the World around us asks, “How are you?” But it wasn’t until today that someone really stopped to hear my answer.
We are so often prepared for the “I’m fine,” that when we ask the question we don’t expect an honest answer. And because it’s never expected, we never answer when it’s asked of us.
It’s a standard conversation.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine; thanks for asking.”
But how often is it authentic?
There are so many people who have so much to say. Who just need someone to talk to, to listen. What a person portrays on the outside is rarely what’s going on on the inside.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous if every time someone asked you, “How are you?” they really wanted to know? And if you offered the trite response, they’d push just a little to let you know they’re sincere?
My friend Wendy did just that for me today. Certainly, I hint about life’s downside here on the Blog. But I don’t really let you go there: into that Room where I keep my deep dark scarred secrets, the parts of me that cry out in fear and loneliness and anger and confusion.
I would love to scream it into my keyboard. But that’s not really me. And it does a disservice to expose myself in such a way. Discretion is always the greater part of valor, but that doesn’t mean we should lock ourselves away from the World, or hide or true selves from it. Still, it’s hard to open up about the real stuff. Even when others express their care.
Unfortunately, there’s a time and a place for everything, and we’re taught at an early age that the standard Q&A is, only, “How are you?” and “I’m fine.” The End.
Societal boundaries tell us crying in public isn’t always welcome. But neither is jumping for joy. We’re subdued into letting those critical moments pass us by: those moments that can make the difference between saying, “I’m fine,” and meaning, “I’m fine!”
I’ve chosen to stretch those boundaries. I choose to look someone in the eye, and wait for the answer. Just like Wendy, who looks. And waits. And asks again. “How are you, really?” with no presumption over a pat or trite answer. She asks for truth, and expects it. And lets me get away with nothing less.
I want to be like Wendy. And so I’m asking. And waiting. And listening. I’ve found that listening to others takes my own focus off myself and gives me a different perspective.There is nothing so terrible that I can’t get through it. No joy so private it isn’t made better by telling those closest to me. And when I listen, I learn more about others. About humanity. About what makes the World Go ‘Round. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
My college roommate posted this on her Facebook wall tonight ~
If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
How true is that? We think we’re unique. And we are. But problems aren’t. Struggles aren’t. Even joys and excitements aren’t.
It’s okay to share our life with those around us. As long as we let them share theirs.
And Frankly, My Dear… that’s all she wrote!
My mother would say that no one else really wanted to know whatever was the ache or complaint anyway, so the standard answer would generally be “oh, I’m fine…”
Thank you, William. I agree. People want to talk about their own conditions, but it’s a rare person who truly listens more than they talk.