My Outlook

Asked, but often not easily answered

            It has been 15 years since the NBC hit Friends aired its final episode but the show has remained a ratings bonanza in reruns and has seen success in finding new audiences. So much success in fact, that Netflix paid $100 million to continue streaming the show through 2019.

            In its 10 seasons several catch phrases made their way into popular culture, with one of the most well-known being Joey Tribbiani's, "How you doin'?". It was in the script less than 20 times over 236 episodes but the line made an impact thanks to Matt LeBlanc's delivery and emphasis on the word 'you' along with the characteristic tilt of the head in his classic pick-up line.

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            Though our intent is not quite as flirtatious, we pose a variation of the same question quite often. Hey, how are things going? What's new? How are you? It's a question we use as a casual greeting or conversation starter. We might treat the query in a rather glib manner, thinking that people are just asking out of obligation or social convention.

Often at the conclusion of a restaurant meal servers will ask what our plans are for the rest of the day. It's a great way to fill time while waiting for payment to take place. Question asked, answered and everyone moves on.

But what if the responses were not in keeping with the accepted line of small talk? Imagine the reaction if patrons didn't reply with plans of attending a movie or concert, or heading home or going out with friends, but instead talked about sitting vigil at a bedside, or returning to a courtroom, or any other painful experience that could be just as likely a possibility. But of course social niceties suggest the circumstance warrants the more appropriate response.

         I ran into someone I hadn't seen for quite some time so as I was walking past her I casually tossed out the uninspired, "Hey, how're you doing?" We are so accustomed to how these interactions go we expect a non-committal variation of fine…okay…not bad…how 'bout you…and simply move on with our day. It's not that we don't care about the question or the response, it's just that we are overly familiar with how the conversation is likely to go.

But in this instance, I was decidedly unprepared for her response. She is facing a major health issue. I was totally taken aback and immediately wished I hadn't been so flippant in my throwaway question. But I am so, so glad she decided to be honest with me in that moment. She didn't need to. It was a choice on her part, and one I am grateful she made.

But I wonder how many people feel it's a question they should probably dodge; one necessary to sidestep because they don't think people actually want the truth, or worse, don't have time to listen to what's really going on.

We are social beings. We need to connect and share with others, and to have others share and connect with us. While it's true some of us are more introverted than others, we all need continual interactions for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. Yet the reality is an increasing number of people say they are lacking in strong, meaningful relationships, and these findings are cutting across all ages.

It stops me in my tracks to wonder how many times I have brushed past someone or gave off an impression that I wouldn't take the time to listen to how they really are. It is disheartening to think how many times I have let people feel unseen or unheard, or how often I didn't think someone was interested enough in me to know how I really am.

But perhaps the good news is hearing from those who say they lack meaningful relationships. Maybe they were willing to admit that for one important reason: what they want most of all are, in fact, meaningful relationships.

The remedy may be easier than we think. There are people genuinely interested in how you are doing. It's more than a catch phrase. It's a prescription that may be as simple as answering a question. That's my outlook.

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