How are you?

How are you?

We get asked it every day: ”Hi, how are you?’

‘How are you doing?’

‘How’s things?’

‘How have you been?’

And many other variations, all basically asking the same thing: how are you?

Ou reply usually depends on who’s asking. There are many people with whom I’ll always do the auto ‘fine thanks, you?’ thing with, either because I don’t really know them or (more often) because I don’t really want them to know the actual answer. Sometimes ‘I’m fine’ is the truth, but there are many days when it isn’t. It might not be that it’s the wrong person asking; it could be that we don’t really know what the problem is, or have words for how we’re feeling. Then, of course, there’s the worry that the ‘not okayness’ we’re experiencing sounds stupid, or insignificant compared to what someone else may be going through. And on other days, quite frankly, we just can’t be bothered to talk about it or explain the inner workings of our lives and circumstances.

This article on the BBC website caught my attention this morning. Hati describes how a teacher saved her from suicide, and it started with being asked ‘Hey, are you all right? How’s it going?’. Hati had a choice; in that moment she could’ve replied dismissively, but she chose to be honest. The teacher asked the question, and more importantly, waited to listen to the answer.

Anyone can do that.

Anyone can ask the question, and then wait.

Anyone can ask the question, and then wait, and potentially save a life.

Anyone.

Let’s not always assume people are ok because they’re out and about and smiling. Pain often hides itself really, really well and it’s all too easy to be fooled by outward appearances. I can recall dozens of occasions when I’ve been high flying at work, delivering talks and coming across as the total epitome of happiness, when in reality all I’ve been able to hear in my head is a long silent scream of distress. And yet when people asked ‘how are you?’, I’d still just smile and give the standard ‘fine’ response. Being asked the question is one thing; but having the courage to be honest is another.

I’ve learnt that we don’t have to wait to be asked. I have a few close friends who will ask, but I know I can text those same friends ‘I’m not okay’ without needing the question first, and for that I feel beyond privileged. But I’m conscious not everyone has that, so I’m trying to make more of an effort to ask ‘how are you?’, and mean it, and then actually listen to their reply, because like with Hati’s story, there’ll come a day when I might be in the right place to ask the right person when they need it most.

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