How do you respond when someone asks, “how are you?”
But, really, love.
How are you?
Are you good?
Are you okay?
Are you alright?
These responses are so commonly spoken that even when we are not good, okay, or alright, we find ourselves saying so anyway.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how we answer this question after receiving a beautiful email and blog request from a dear friend.
Her perspective is one that I think we all need to hear; and so, before I say any more, here is a note from my friend Annie:
“’How are you?’
In our culture, these words are common pleasantry, synonymous with hello. What's more, we automatically expect a positive response from the individual.
Why are we so afraid to open up when presented with this question? Most of us mask when we are hurting, quickly responding with 'fine' or maybe even 'great.'
These three words are a great source of discomfort for me. As a 32-year-old widow, I cannot and refuse to give the expected 'fine' response. I am struggling. I somehow have found myself in a room where the walls are caving in, gasping for enough air to keep me alive. That is how everyday feels like when you are living with grief. If you can't relate then consider yourself blessed.
An honest response should not make anyone uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to be honest and maybe even vulnerable. If you catch yourself on the flip side of it, know the person doesn't expect you to solve their problem. A simple acknowledgement will make all the difference.”
Annie’s words are so damn powerful.
Honestly, I typed and deleted and typed and deleted my thoughts to what she wrote for what seemed like a hundred times. What she said is deserving of a mic drop.
I know and believe with every ounce of my heart that we do not have to have the answers.
Our words do not have to be perfect.
My words do not have to be perfect, and neither do yours. We are not expected to say the right thing to make someone else’s pain or suffering go away. And quite frankly, I think it is safe to say that nobody is expecting us to do that. We cannot do that. What we can do is offer empathy and love by meeting people right where they are at, without trying to change or fix them.
We can start by shifting what it means to ask, and respond to, how are you?
It is not that we have to divulge every detail of our experience, but rather it is giving ourselves permission to state how we truly feel, to give what we feel a name that is greater than the glossy, simple words of fine, good, and great.
Vulnerability is opening ourselves up. It is feeling what we are feeling. It is being authentic to our experience and the experiences of those around us. Vulnerability is not pretending. It is welcoming the fact that you are human and that you are imperfect. It is remembering that life is hard sometimes. It is taking the good with the bad, it is honoring that we all have stories to tell. It is telling. It is listening.
At the end of the day, we all want to feel heard, to feel understood.
The next time someone asks how you are doing, I encourage you to pause, and find a word that really validates your experience. Whether you are excited, relaxed, busy, or sad, honor yourself by naming how you really feel. As Annie said above, it is likely that the other person may experience discomfort in your honesty, but just maybe, they will be inspired to be vulnerable too.