A typical conversation starter, heard almost anywhere, at anytime…
“Hi, how’s it going,” I ask,
“Not too bad,” you answer, then ask, “you?”
“Pretty good thanks,” I respond, and then identify myself, “I’m Travis,” extending my hand.
You take my hand with a firm handshake, “Joe,” you reply.
“So, what do you do, Joe?” I ask…
or, if you are already acquainted with the person, the conversation runs a similar course:
“Hey Fred, how’s it going,” I ask,
“Not too bad, Travis,” you answer, then ask, “you?”
“Pretty good thanks,” I respond, “so, how’s work?”
And at this point, we all begin to describe the job that we do. How much we like it, hate it, don’t really care. Blah, blah, blah. We end up moving on without making any meaningful connection with anyone. What if, instead of asking such superficial questions, like “how are you?” or “how’s work?” or “how’s the kids?”, what if we asked questions like we actually cared? Or, if when asking the previously stated questions, we asked them sincerely, ready for whatever answer that may come?
If we are going to get anywhere in building relationship with anyone, we are going to need to find a way to go deeper. We need to love people, the way Jesus did. Try it. Ask someone how they are, and make time for their response. You might be surprised at how much they have to say, when you let your tone of voice and body language assure them that you really care.
Or, maybe it’s not the questions being asked, or the lack of attention by the asker, it’s the answers to those questions that are the problem, pre-programmed, we just press play and the let the tape roll. We let the one word answers fly, “fine,” “not too bad,” and “alright.”
As far as I can tell, there are three different dysfunctional behaviors that prevent us from having the conversations that actually let us begin to form and build relationships.
The first dysfunctional behavior is the “Welcome to Safeway, how are you today?” In this situation, we all select a pre-recorded one or two word answer and let it roll, knowing they aren’t really listening as they scan our *BEEP* Dairyland 1% Milk, *BEEP* Vanderpol Extra Large Free Range Eggs, *BEEP* Delissio Hawaiian Pizza (Frozen) , *BEEP*… If we do attempt anything more meaningful than a typical answer, it is usually met with a blank stare, or at best with caring eyes that seem to say, “I wish we could talk about it, but…”
The second dysfunctional behavior presents itself when there is a legitimate time to share the answer, when the person asking probably sincerely cares. This may be at a church meeting, or lunch with a co-worker, employer or pastor; yet, out of fear or laziness or some other reason, we’re still using the same one or two word answers that we were using in the supermarket: “fine,” or “good,” or “not bad.”
The third dysfunctional behavior is generally reserved for the people that actually do know and love you, family and close friends, and it manifests itself by combining the first and second behaviors. If and when the questions “how’s it going,” “how are you,” how’s your wife & kids,” are posed, we generally inflate our answers to make it look like we have it together, wanting to impress parents, siblings and others. That’s only if the questions are asked at all. I say it like this, because often we assume the ones closest to us are doing well, when inside they are screaming out for someone to sit down with them, and ask them, “how are you, really?”
When my beautiful wife, Brandee, was bravely battling what we now recognize as borderline postpartum depression after the birth of our second daughter, she wanted this more than anything. Describing it to me now, looking back, she remembers getting out for a quick trip to the grocery store, walking through the aisles in a daze, hearing people around her speak, but not comprehending their words. She remembers walking throughout the store, wondering if she even belonged in this world. She thought about hurting herself, just to feel something. As she stood with her basket of groceries at the check-out line, the clerk asked her the question, “how are you today,” she wanted to so badly to let it out, but, knowing that the question was only a formality, answered, “alright.” Whatever flicker of hope was in her at that moment, was snuffed out, and she felt nothing.
There are people walking wounded all around us. We need to reach out and build relationships with each other. It’s not only the hurting that desperately need this interaction. There are so many people with big hopes, dreams and vision, but they need to talk about it, to have people affirm that they are great, and that they can do it! Without knowing that anyone even cares, dreams die, and those destined for greatness settle for a life of mediocrity.
Each family cannot be an island! Most of our homes are less then 20 feet apart, some even closer, yet most can count the number of conversations in the past year with our neighbors or people in our communities on the fingers of one hand. Or, if more frequent, then each conversation we do carry with our neighbors, whether they live next to you, or sit next to you in church, probably comes it at 20 words or less:
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Pretty good, nice to see you again!”
“You too. Well, see ya later.”
Yeah. Glad we could have this talk. How are you, really?