Colleagues talking

How Are You?

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A question meant only as a greeting. A chance at connection diminished to a mere formality. 

In what public health experts have deemed a pandemic of loneliness, people are more isolated than ever. Because we realized that a smile can be just as infectious as a virus. That those little moments of small talk with the corner barista or the grocery store clerk were worth so much more than we had ever given them credit.  

How are you? These three words are powerful. They are a lens through which we can take a small glimpse into someone else’s entire world. Of the history that they have lived and the stories that they continue to write. How fascinating is it that we each exist in our own realities, yet we rarely get to experience one another’s? And even more so that a conversation is all it takes to bridge them.

There is an expectation to respond to this question briefly, to reply with a quick “I’m good” and to move on to whatever the task is at hand — whether it be running a meeting, working on a project, or diving into treatment options. 

There is a tendency to view work and school as shallow spaces, where one fears digging too deep into someone else’s personal business simply because they are our colleagues, classmates, or patients. But given the amount of time that we spend in these spaces, shouldn’t we foster those relationships with as much care and attention as the ones we have at home? 

Having to lie through your teeth that you are doing fine, when you really are not, creates a disconnect within us. It lets whatever was building up inside you fester and grow until the pressure is so great that you burst. Would it not be easier to release the valve in small spurts, so that it never got to that point in the first place? 

We each face our own struggles. None are worse than others, they are all uniquely valid and equally real to us. And so often, we feel compelled to hide them from view. We are convinced that being strong means shouldering that burden alone. 

And in truth, it is yours alone to carry. No one else can do that for you. But if only others could actually see the weight you bring with you everywhere. 

To ask someone, genuinely, how they are is to be a compassionate witness to the struggles that they face, to ultimately recognize the once invisible load on their back. And you’ll notice that when you answer someone, genuinely, how you are that your muscles start to ache just a little less while holding up that weight. 

You’ll feel the barrier of isolation around you start to crumble, as thin rays of light find their way through the cracks. And the motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other will be ignited as being truly seen by someone else is a reminder that you have the grit within you to do so. 

To be authentic with each other. To really mean it when we ask those three words and to really listen when someone is brave enough to answer them truthfully. In doing so, we can both acknowledge the bad and savor the good. We can connect, and empower one another to move through the suffering so that we can better enjoy the sweetness of life.

So what would happen if we were honest with one another? If the genuineness of my answer shocked you out of your daze, and dared you to be curious about another human being?