“Hi, how are you going?” “Good thank you, how are you?”, “Yeah good“.
This narrative plays out in every workplace, shopping center, sidewalk, text message, and every other place that involves people. Without even being aware of it, have we have become so socially conditioned that we mindlessly ask how people are going, and respond in the same manner? Have we traded in real connection for a copy-and-paste social cue?
I’m no picket sign, slogan chanting, and tie myself to a tree person – I am quite the opposite in fact. However, every time someone asked me ‘how are you’ in passing conversation, it nudged my frustration to the point of contemplation of is there a deeper issue. My frustration with the phrase “How are you going?” isn’t just based on the fact that it socially sends me in a whirlwind when I can’t respond in time or that it deeply confuses me why someone asks me how I am going when they are two steps away in the other direction. It frustrates me because of what we loose when we haphazardly ask the question. In a world where our physical connections are few we disregard the moments that we do have together. We all know the ‘Boy cried wolf’ tale, but is it not outrageous of me to think that this principle applies here too? Have we become so used to responding and hearing the same responses that when we do try to be sincere with asking how are you going, it turns into a 5-step scientific method to extract the truth. As a society, we are even at the point of having to fund days such as R U OK? day to reinforce the value of asking how someone is going and provide support on how to ask and listen when people talk.
Last year I volunteered weekly with a team, and early on in the year I became aware of the automatic responses like ‘good’ and ‘well’ that plagued our conversations. On a whim, I asked the question “What does good (well/okay etc.) mean to you?” Let me tell you this… it opened conversation right up! There was no hiding behind a socially acceptable response and allowing the conversation to pass along. There was a greater and deeper level of support, understanding, and vulnerability.
The truth is, we are made for more. We were made to commune with people. To share, to grow, to inspire, and to share the load. The words that come out of our mouths, good or bad, have an impact on this world. They should not be mindlessly thrown around, but instead treasured and spoken with intention. A little food for though: try and become aware for even a day and notice how many times you come across similar situations. If you’re anything like me, even when you’re aware it is so easy to slip back into the routine of accompanying a ‘Hi’ with ‘How are you?’. However, imagine if as a society we all became more aware and intentional with the words we used!
“Even brief moments of genuine conversation can uplift our entire life.” -Sakyong Mipham