It seems like it just falls off the tongue without even much thought. “How Are You”. Someone comes to the door, you open it, give a hug or a handshake while exclaiming, “Hi!! How are you!?” and then immediately, thoughts turn to greeting the next person, or whats in the oven, or keeping the kids busy and out of trouble for the moment. “How Are You”, and I didn’t even stop to listen. Or maybe you were the one recieving the greeting and just said “fine! great!” so you could move on without ‘going there’ or avoided eye contact so they didn’t see the insincerity in your reply.
I have found myself increasingly aware of this greeting (both ends of it) recently and it’s bothering me more and more. I saw a friend and her family out at a restaurant and at a momentary lull in conversation, I said, “So! How have ya’ll been!?” and she shook her head and welled up with tears and he looked at me beaming and said, “Great!” with the broadest smile across his face. What a conflict! I felt absolutely horrible. I put my hand on her shoulder and made a nice comment about the kids and how they’re growing so fast. In my head I beat myself up. I still am, a few days later. Why did I ask if I couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t plan to stop to really listen to the response if it wasn’t the usual pleasantries, I’d come to expect? It really wasn’t the place to sit and talk or offer an ear and a kleenex. Granted, a follow up phone call was in order, but in that moment…I let her down and I disappointed myself.
It happened to me earlier in the day as well, except I was on the other end. An aquaintance in passing, we simultaneously said “Hi!” and then as we literally passed each other and I stopped and turned around as she continued on her way and said (loudly now from afar) “How are you?” and kept going. I turned back around and hollared off half laughing, “Great!” In my mind, thinking, “Why? Why do we do this?”
How does it become so easy to throw off such quick inquiries into each others lives? What would happen if we only asked “how are you” when looking eye to eye sitting down? Could we leave knowing that the other person is ok or has no needs that we could help fulfill. I mean, you can’t make someone tell you anything. But how many times do we miss an opportunity because we are in a hurry? What is “How are you” on your way out the door anyway?
I’m not suggesting we sit and go into far lengths on how everyone is. Certainly, there are those of us who are fine to just say “I’m good! You?” and go on their way. But I think there’s more than that for many of the rest.
I’m taking notice of filling the space. Cheapening a greeting and missing out on something greater. The person under the broad smile, who’s fairly locked up. This is not how life is meant to be lived! They gotta know you care. And you do care…but ‘making nice conversation’ probably isnt the best way to express it.
I’m gonna hold off on saying “Hey! How are you?” for the next little bit. If nothing else, to avoid the clenched jaw that either of us might have while smiling.