How are you doing and am I listening?

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dallas Hyland is a St. George News columnist, the opinions stated herein are solely his own.

OPINION – It is no secret I like to frequent local coffee houses. On any given morning or afternoon you will find me in one of these places taking in a cup (dark roast, double cupped, space for cream please) and spreading out at a table to get some of the daily grind sorted out.

Almost invariably, I will either encounter someone I know or meet a new face and grind gets remanded to usually pleasant and sometimes entertaining conversation. I love my job.

On occasion, I do come across an awkward moment finding myself wishing I could be anywhere but right there and even feeling a little cornered; this comes with the territory I suppose. Being gregarious in nature has its downside at times; but mostly I find the people of this great town an absolute delight.

We all have no doubt encountered that uncomfortable moment when, in passing, we ask people how they are doing and they do the unthinkable: they tell us. And tell us, and tell us.

Now, in truth we asked the question so why do we get bothered when we get the lengthy answer? Is it that we did not really mean it when we asked?  Are we on autopilot when it comes to formalities such that our interactions are merely utilitarian and, once the conversation has served its purpose, we dispose of the person in our mindset? Perhaps this is the case sometimes and it is well worth some consideration but what I am interested in here is what is going on behind the scenes.

You see, I do not believe people are actually living the carefree and painless existence that their bland words and cool countenances suggest. As for my own experience, life is hard and only gets harder – with very few moments of clarity. It is a series of somewhat ambiguous victories and vague defeats. While it is a worthwhile struggle, it is a struggle nonetheless and one which seems to never end.

So when people ask me how I am doing, do I tell them what is going on in my life? Nope. I have too much pride for that. I too jump right into the status quo and present the illusion of confidence and control.

OK, in truth I split it down the middle. If I genuinely believe someone is asking, and I have a level of trust with the person, I will talk. I think all in all, this is a pretty reasonable approach to the matter and it is the course I recommend.

But, let’s take a look for a moment at the side of the one who asks the question.  Let’s consider the possibility that a lack of intentionality might be present and that it speaks volumes about the character of people when they get annoyed because someone answers their query in a manner not conducive to their busy schedule.

Having the time and humility to care for others is in short supply in our pseudo-technological world; offering both can go a long way in encouraging genuine human connections, whether momentary or ongoing, for the value of us individually and collectively.

The Desiderata is a wise old piece of work written by Max Ehrman giving a sort of set of guidelines to life, at one point it says, “Listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant for they too have their story.”

Life is short you know and people are fragile even if they would have you believe otherwise.  So what possible harm could come from taking the time to listen to an honest response to what may have been perceived as an honest query?

If you don’t want them to tell, don’t ask.

See you out there.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.


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