Three of the most worn-out words

And the peril they present.

An+all-too+familiar+scenario.

Moriah Chiang, The Horizon

An all-too familiar scenario.

Rebecca Li, Managing/Op-Ed Editor

I have started to dread the question “How are you?” Here’s why.

I can picture a few different situations following that introductory remark, the most common one being when the asker and responder alike exchange mere civilities. During a sprint through the Dining Commons (DC), a brief smile and the aforementioned greeting sufficiently acknowledges the presence of the other individual without clashing with the next urgent, scheduled commitment. Perhaps there is nothing inherently wrong with this scenario.

But what if the person you are addressing genuinely desires to share how she is doing? You simply might not have the capacity at the moment to handle the honest response to this question. She might desperately need a listening ear. She might be at the center of a crisis, and you might have more on your hands than you bargained for.

Alternatively, you may really want — and have the time — to check in with your friend, but all you get in response is “I’m good,” a sentiment likely sharing only partial truth. The question you have asked poorly conveys your well-meaning intentions.

In either case, you may not get the answer you wanted. I am stressing the discrepancy felt between the intentions of the person asking and the person answering. 

Perhaps a large portion of my incentive to write this article is the uncomfortable awareness that we might not want to grapple with the truthful response to this question. This unwillingness will perpetuate a culture in which we cannot easily acknowledge the messy and broken places in our lives.

At the end of the day, I believe many of us secretly long to open up to others about our deepest fears and desires. As touched upon in a previous article, I cherish the hope that every community in which I participate — my college, my church, my workplace — will foster honesty and vulnerability for those who desire it. However, if you do not particularly expect or desire honesty when asking the same question 10 times a day, you will not get it. 

The best-case scenario would involve two people who have committed to invest in one another’s lives. There is sufficient mutual trust to have a truthful and thoughtful conversation about where each person is spiritually, physically, mentally, academically, emotionally or socially. Unfortunately, in light of the confusion surrounding this oft vague query, I would put forth that these conversations are best birthed from a different starting point. 

One alternative phrase I have found to be helpful as a Christian is to inquire, “How can I pray for you?” In my experience, even if the person I address is not a believer, the reaction has typically been favorable. This question is an intentional invitation to share pressing needs, without being intrusive or forcing the other person to be uncomfortably vulnerable. 

Moreover, I could easily devote another full article on the glorious nature of prayer and the subsequent advantage of introducing the prospect of prayer into your quotidian dialogue. By bringing God into the conversation, you have this comfort: no matter the heaviness of the grief discussed — cancer, sexual assault, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse — God can handle it far, far better than you ever could. Christians will often verbally attest that prayer is a tremendous gift, but the conversations we have belie how little we believe it to be true.

Another option could be asking, “What’s on your mind?” It’s a subtle but significant shift that provides a more concrete path for the conversation and clarifies the motive of the speaker. Once again, it feels a few degrees more intentional than “How are you?”

As you might have gathered, I place high importance on intentionality. Looking to the example of Jesus Christ, we see that He was the most intentional person to walk this earth. God had a plan from the very beginning of creation to embrace His wayward children in love — to bring liberating redemption to them through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He cares more deeply than anyone else how we are doing. Everything He says and does is for His glory and the ultimate wellbeing of our souls. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). 

You might be half-convinced, thinking I have made a mountain out of a molehill. I would offer a loving warning to you in response: do not be so entrenched in the inertia of your habits that you miss out on the delightful possibilities of deepening authentic relationships with others. 

In closing, I invite you to carry this thought from “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis with you as you take your eyes off your screen and plunge back into the myriad of mundane-yet-meaningful moments with everyone you see — today, tomorrow and beyond.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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