Fellowship has its barriers within any community of care. But this could be the chief of them. It begins as the very first words are uttered from the mouth of a would-be, could-be, or sadder an actual, friend.
Those words are, ‘How are you / going?’
Don’t get me wrong. Those three or four words can initiate a wonderfully intimate conversation, except for two circumstances where they break intimacy in half.
1. Where the conversation stops at ‘Good, thanks,’ and there’s no more enquiry entered into, apart from ‘Okay, great,’ more as to say, ‘I don’t have the time for you,’ ‘I don’t have the time right now, and generally don’t ever,’ or ‘I wasn’t really interested in any more of a response than “Good, thanks” to begin with,’ there’s a problem. The problem should be obvious. Should the question have been asked to begin with? Should we feign intimacy?
2. Where the conversation stops because, awkwardly, the person being asked doesn’t feel comfortable answering honestly. That’s okay. Nobody should apologise for needing to avoid the question. The answer could be a polite, ‘I’m well, thank you,’ if indeed they were well.
In both of the above situations, there is a way to advance intimacy.
In the first situation, if we’re asking the question, we actually need to be interested in their answer, to the extent we’re willing to ask clarifying questions as we enter into meaningful listening dialogue.
In the second situation, we need to discern any sense of awkwardness and respect the space the other person requires, and not be offended that they can’t commit more than that.
If we ask the question genuinely, we could begin to go deeper than simply the offhand ‘how are you?’ which we tend to experience everywhere in our fast-paced world. The exception is where we don’t feel comfortable, for which the code response could be, ‘I’m well, thank you.’
Our communities of care would be much better places of fellowship and growth if only we took seriously the question, ‘How are you?’
How much more would we care if only we meant it when we asked, ‘How are you?’