Picture yourself at the grocery store, you have a list in your hand and need to get out of the store in the next 20 minutes or you will be late picking the kids up from school. You see Sally coming towards you, you haven’t seen her in awhile, but you know things are not good for her right now,. As you pass her you throw a smile and say “Hi, how are you?” And don’t skip a beat as you keep pushing a cart waiting for her to respond, “Good” she says. As you pass by you say “Have a great day” and finish your shopping. You think to yourself how proud you are of Sally, holding her head up high through everything. Now where did they move the peanut butter to?
Lets look at this from Sally’s point of view. Every day she gets up, knowing what the day will be. One of the things on her to-do list is going to the grocery store, while there she sees several people she knows. All of them ask “How are you” and she responds with a smile and “good”. She knows it is a lie, but she also knows that nobody really wants to hear the truth, because none of them actually stop long enough to hear more than a one word answer. And what if she were to say that if she doesn’t pay her electric bill by Friday it will get turned off? Or that the doctor told her this morning he wants to do another biopsy? That her daughter cries all the time because she is afraid she will lose her mom? She has tried to speak up in the past and the look of panic on the faces of people told her they want to leave the conversation and fast. So she lies.
Every time she lies, a piece of her dies inside. She feels more alone and helpless than ever. Sally is amazed at how easy it is to smile and pretend everything is good, just so someone else doesn’t feel uncomfortable. She tells her kids not to lie, but she does it every single day. She wonders if there is a difference? Sally finishes her shopping and heads to pick up her own kids from school, feeling very much alone.
A greeting is a word or gesture of salutations. A question is a statement made with an expectation of receiving an answer. How often do you greet someone with “How are you?” And really give the time to listen for an honest answer? I am not saying that you don’t have a schedule to keep, I just wonder if you really ask the question expecting an honest answer? Whether you know the person is going through a hard time or not, are you ready to stop and listen to what they have to say? If not, then stop asking that question when you see people. A simple hello is fine and have a nice day works perfectly. Sally understands you are in a hurry, she just doesn’t want to keep lying.
When you ask someone how they are doing, and can’t or won’t give the time to listen for an honest answer, you are asking that person to lie. We teach our kids to have compassion for others, but do we really, truly exhibit it in our own lives? I honestly believe most people have no clue how this one little thing affects others, or they would stop doing it. We don’t get up in the morning intending to cause someone grief. If we know we have hurt someone we try to make it right. People like Sally, they rarely speak up. It is such a small thing, and how do you tell someone what they are doing is so painful?
What is the solution? Either make the time to really listen to the answer, and make sure Sally knows she can be honest, or don’t ask the question. It is okay to just say “hello”, “hi” or even “you look beautiful today” and keep walking. We don’t have to stop and talk to everyone we see. Just make those times when you see someone you know, that you will have a positive impact. A smile, a hug or well wishes can make someone’s day, and they take only seconds. When you have time, that is when you ask those three little words. And if Sally tells you things that make you uncomfortable, imagine how she feels telling you. Now that is showing compassion.