I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but we Americans have a habit of starting conversations with the question, “How are you?” Now, for most of us, it’s so habitual that the words tumble out before we think about it, and our brain may be mentally making a grocery list while the other party answers, “Fine.” Or at least, that’s what we expect. Or maybe it’s even what we hope for. Egad, we don’t really want to know, do we? After all, we’re being polite for asking, right?
While I admit I’ve done this in the past, I now find myself asking because I genuinely want to know how someone is doing. But I realized if I really want to know, I have to make myself clear. I had this temple-thump moment when a friend asked me how I was doing one day. “Fine,” I answered on autopilot. What happened next took a second to register, but it turned my day upside-down in a good way. My friend replied, “Okay, now how are you really?”
It was the strangest feeling, but I suddenly knew I’d been given permission to say I was anything but okay. He’d given me the green light (in flashing neon) to empty my overflowing bucket of emotions. I dodged for half a second. ”Wellllll….” I mumbled. He came right back with, “Let’s hear it. I’m listening.” That was all I needed—real, sincere, genuine interest. Not to scare anyone out of asking me how I’m doing, but a major vent session ensued. Man, did I feel better afterward. I purged big time, and the best part? I did it guilt-free. I was helped, and also I learned a valuable lesson about helping others through tough times.
So my kindness thought for today is this: Take an extra few minutes to coax people if you think they’re down. Most of them won’t volunteer anything but a quick “fine” because they believe, as I did, that it’s all part of small talk/chit-chat. But sincerity—that lost thing that’s become a rare jewel in society—can be found again. And you may make someone’s day a little less burdened. A little lighter. A little better. In doing so, you’re also helping yourself.