I have this friend that I don’t see a ton, but when I do see her she always asks how I am doing. Big whoop, right. Baristas at coffee shops ask the same thing to perfect strangers. The difference is in the emphasis – How are YOU? – vs – How ARE you? Crazy subtle, I know, but hang with me for a minute.
“How are YOU?” gets asked a million times a day. You say it to strangers and casual acquaintances and the expected responses range from, “Good,” “Still kickin’,” “Hanging in there,” “Can’t complain,” etc. Even if you are having a total crap day, you come up with something vaguely positive to say. These are the rules. Just look at how foreign languages are taught. One of the first things learned are greetings and responses. All of the responses are rote, because nobody actually expects a real answer. It’s just part of the greeting.
When someone strays from that by responding something like, “I’ve been feeling really depressed and my back’s been hurting for some reason,” the conversation immediately becomes awkward and you start wondering why this person whom don’t know from Adam, is telling you their life story? Awkward! The fact that you asked is completely inconsequential, because “How are YOU?” might as well be a rhetorical question. Stick to the script and nobody gets hurt.
Which brings me to, “How ARE you?” This is what my friend asks, and that tiny shift of emphasis throws away the rule book. She has gone off script, and actually wants to know what’s going on with me. I’m quite certain that if I responded, “Kinda crappy,” I would immediately find myself in a heartfelt conversation about why I’m feeling crappy and if there is anything that she can do help. That is a hypothesis, because I of course always answer with, “Good,” because I’ve been trained since childhood to keep my feelings to myself and the damn word is out of my mouth before I can stop it. But it’s got me thinking.
What if we reserved “How are YOU?” for ice breakers with strangers, and really started to use, “How ARE you?” for the people we care about. What if we were actually open to getting an honest response and then giving honest feedback in return? Or maybe no feedback at all, just sit and listen to someone. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a crappy mood, and the simple act of explaining why I am in said mood was enough to lift the cloud a little bit. Sure, it would extend the length of conversations, but it would also help eliminate the feeling of being all alone even when surrounded by a group of people. There are far too many lonely/hurting people in the world, and perhaps small changes like this could help remedy some of that.
I don’t know. This just keeps rolling around in my brain, because I know how much it means to me when I hear it from her. So how ARE you?