Friday, March 25, 2011

“Hi. How Are You?”

“Hi. How are you?” How often do you offer that greeting in a given day – and how many times does someone make that inquiry of you?

Now let me pose another question: When asking, “How are you?”, do you really want to know?

I’ll never forget a day in college when, as I was exiting a building, I encountered an instructor I’d had the preceding semester. “Hi, Bob. How are you?” she asked. I stopped and began telling her about a problem I was wrestling with. Her eye contact and body language quickly told me she wasn’t interested in knowing how I was. Simply acknowledging my presence, her “How are you?” really meant, “Hello.”

Years later I nearly did the same thing to a longtime friend. Having just arrived for a summer conference, I was focused on getting our family’s belongings up to our room before engaging in the customary business of reconnecting with old friends. I was entering an elevator when one of those friends came by. I offered an almost automatic, “Hi, Joe, how are you?”

Expecting to hear the customary and equally automatic “Fine,” I was about to respond, “Hey, that’s great!” when I realized he’d begun to describe a serious family problem that had arisen. My mouth hung open and I squelched my “that’s great” just before it became audible. Then I did the only appropriate thing – I shut my mouth and listened as Joe elaborated.

This friend had been hurting and was eager to find a sympathetic ear. How sad it would have been if, instead of compassion, his response had been met with indifference.

I’m not saying I’m the world’s best listener – I’m not. But sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves of the admonition to “be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (James 1:19).

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