Somebody needs you. Don’t keep them waiting.
It happens when we leave the house, often numerous times a day. Two people who know each other pass by in a hallway at work or on the sidewalk, at school or a conference, at a bar, a gym, or in the church foyer. Our eyes meet, we recognize each other, and we acknowledge each other with a greeting. We say “Hello”, “Hey there”, or we throw out a quick “Hi”.
This greeting is usually followed by the question, “How are you?” We don’t ask how they’re feeling, specifically, unless we know they’ve been sick. We don’t usually ask, “What are you doing?” though we may ask, “What have you been up to?” What are we asking when we say, “How are you?” This could amount to a rather lengthy exchange if we’re truly interested in how a person is faring physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.
Sometimes we ask the question as we pass each other and we don’t even stop to hear the answer. Sometimes only one person does the asking and the other answers and that’s all there’s time for in the passing. We lump the greeting and the question together under the banner of the acknowledgement. In this case, we’re not interested in the answer which is why there are standard responses. We say, “I’m great”, “I’m well”, “I’m fine” or the grammatically incorrect “I’m good”, which is like saying “I’m virtuous”, but people either don’t know this or don’t care.
Maybe we give the standard responses because they don’t require anymore of us. Maybe we want to hear the standard responses because they don’t require anymore of us.
If it’s only meant to be a pleasant salute of each other and we have no time for conversation, then why do we ask? Why don’t we just say, “It’s nice to see you”, put a cap on the whole thing and go on with our day?
As far as I’m concerned, if we ask, we’re committed, even if the response is something other than the standard. Sometimes people say, “I’m okay”, which usually means they’re not okay. When someone says, “I’m surviving”, this should give pause. One doesn’t keep walking when someone reveals they’re less than fine. You may be on your way to an important meeting or an appointment, but if you’re a decent person, you’ll say, “Sorry to hear that. I have to go, but we’ll talk later” and then get back to that person as soon as possible.
There are times when people do stop and shake hands, bump fists, or hug, and then chat. In this instance, the standard response would fall flat, as the purpose for stopping is to connect more fully.
Being someone who believes in honesty over pretense, the standard response doesn’t fit my M.O. If I’m well, I say it, but if I’m not well, I say that, too. I assume when someone asks this question that they want to know, really know how I am. I don’t believe in faking it till you make it. Putting on a happy face when I’m not happy is not helpful. I believe in being where I am. If I’m exhausted or sad or depressed or disappointed because I didn’t get that job or frustrated at work or worried about my kids, I don’t pretend otherwise to avoid disturbing someone. If we could be real with each other and be willing to meet others at their point of need, maybe we’d have less need for doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and medications.
Of course, it’s important to examine our feelings and their validity. Sometimes professional help is needed. Sometimes we just need a drink, a snack, or a nap. Sometimes our circumstances have overwhelmed us and talking to a friend is exactly what’s needed, to gain some perspective, and so telling the truth when someone greets you can lead to your help and another’s service and a deeper connection with that person, if that’s something you both desire.
Hearing the truth can be awkward for the person asking strictly out of habit. If I choose to tell the truth, I’ve obligated the other party to inquire further. I admit to a certain amount of amusement on this score. When my answer is something other than fine, I’ve had looks of concern to looks of mild discomfort. With some folks, you can see the thought bubble go up over their heads.
“Okay. Here we go. I did not sign up for this.”
I don’t believe they’re being insensitive. Some people are private and closed to those outside the small circle they’ve formed around themselves. They’re deathly afraid of over sharing. They maintain strict boundaries. They wish others, especially acquaintances, would do so, as well. They approach me looking for some light banter and their expectations have been annihilated and they’re momentarily ill at ease. I don’t think I’m being insensitive by making them uncomfortable. We’re here to rub against each other, to stretch each other, to polish each other. Extreme introverts, and I say this as someone who is more introverted, need to be pulled out of their protective self hugs for their own good and for the good of those around them. Guard your personal borders too rigidly and you’ll risk the reluctance of visitors.
If, indeed, we’re here for the benefit of each other, then we should respect each other enough to tell the truth. What are we saying when we say we’re fine? We’re rested? We’re healthy? We’re at peace? We’re content? Work is going well? Our children are healthy and well-adjusted? No major relationship issues? We’re not experiencing more than our share of life’s difficulties? We’re happy, we’ve managed to achieve the holy grail of all feelings? Think about what a nondescript word “fine” is and how it gets in the way of meaningful communication.
I care about the words I use and I still use words I wish I hadn’t. Words are powerful. A few kind words sprinkled liberally with eye contact and a hand on a shoulder can pull someone out of a pit. A few careless words lobbed sloppily while hurrying away can cause someone to sink further. Ignoring or minimizing someone’s pain or slapping them with a pat answer marginalizes them and creates more pain.
Think about the many encounters Jesus had with people. He posed questions, pushing people to think. He challenged those who needed challenging. He imparted wisdom. He touched people. He healed multitudes. He met physical needs, he shared lunch, he barbecued. He affirmed and encouraged. He reassured doubts. He offered forgiveness. He gave hope.
If we’re his temple, each one of us individually, the place where he’s chosen to dwell, and that’s an awesome thought to ponder, then we’re to meet each other as he met us, Jesus in you meets Jesus in me. People walked away from him with their lives altered forever. Some met him only once and never saw him again. We mustn’t diminish the importance, even the eternal significance, of these seemingly insignificant contacts. You never know what your presence will mean to someone. Your words could be a catalyst for change. Your presence could be the comfort someone needs to go on. Take the time to engage. Every chance meeting is a chance to love and impact the world for Christ.
Complete the experience. Listen to Jason Gray’s Every Act of Love.
Posts come out every Monday morning, a poem every third Monday. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to receive notifications of my posts via email. Follow me on Instagram username: pollyeloquent. Thanks for reading. 🙂