I asked my son how he was when he got home from work. Meanwhile, I was taking a brief break in the middle of my work day and was unprepared for the onslaught of venting that ensued on his part. I cut him off by challenging him to focus on a solution (which is very poor form when someone just wants to vent) and he stormed off.
I really did care; I just wasn’t prepared to give him my full and unlimited attention in that moment.
People can be self-righteously cynical about the question ‘how are you’ by saying no one really wants to hear the answer.
I believe they do.
I also believe it’s naive to think that when someone asks how you’re doing, it’s an invitation to a therapy session, and anything less means the inquiry is insincere.
When someone asks me how I am in a chance encounter, I know to be pithy. Because I don’t think it’s bullshit when they ask, but neither do I think they’ve mistaken the moment for a coffee date.
We need to respect each other’s time.
I felt bad cutting off a neighbor I ran into today when she asked about my son because I started going into detail which caused her to share her relevant experience. It was quite helpful…..except that I was on my way to catch a bus for an appointment.
So that was ‘on me’. I wrote her to say as much and suggested we have tea soon.
I call this the How Are You Paradox. The paradox is this: We’re all very busy, and yet we crave real connection.
The only solution I can think of is to consciously create and commit to a time and space for it.
These little drive-by encounters are a very practical cue to do so. So the next time you have one, if you feel the tug of busyness while knowing that you really do care…
Follow up. Arrange to have a cup of tea.