How are you? We literally ask it all the time. To friends, family, those passing us by at work. We all smile and say 'Yeah fine thanks!' or in Scottish if you prefer 'Aye fine ta'. Fine all the same. A few months ago, I had been thinking what if we all just told the truth? What if we asked genuinely, 'how are you really?'. I had been pondering this for a while and it was sitting quietly in the back of my mind. Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to be part of a panel here in Dubai, hosted by the wonderful Ann Mroz - editor and digital publishing editor of TES. As part of her keynote talk before we began, she talked about this. Why do we say we are just 'fine'? when actually we may not be. We may be feeling bloody brilliant or we may be feeling quite upset actually. I could never put it as eloquently as Ann but hearing her discuss mental health issues in the UK and beyond, it was hard not to prod the quiet, little pondering that had been resting in my mind for a while.
I know which friends I can turn to when I'm not fine. There are the ones that can see it written all over my face and the one who can tell by my eyes. But generally, most people pass me by and I tell them 'I'm fine thanks' (Aye, fine ta!'). Often when I ask people how they are, I hear 'Yeah, not bad.' Just think about that for a wee second. Not bad.
This week, like most people, there has been a big pile of stress on my plate. Someone close to me was the victim of a crime and I felt really helpless watching them go through the process of discovering a financial scam. There have been a few things in work that have taken up a bit more mind space than I'd like to offer. I miss my family. I'm worried about uni etc. A combination of things have left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I know they will pass and I'll be fine but it got me to thinking, what if I wasn't?
So many people have mounting pressures, real hardship, illness, stress, financial worries, the list goes on. But the real thing for me is, why does it sometimes get left to fester inside? So often, people bottle up all these pressures and hardships and then, something ultimately has to give. Be it mental health, job loss, fraught relationships and countless other possibilities. Now don't get me wrong, if I asked someone in work who I didn't know too well how they were and they off loaded a massive amount of problems to me, what would I do? Listen and nod as I continue to photocopy? I'd like to think I'd take them to go and sit somewhere for a chat or at least guide them by the elbow over to the school counselor. But isn't that part of it? Do we protect people from how we are feeling as we don't want to burden them? Don't know them enough so don't want them to feel awkward? Don't want to lose face or appear like we're not coping? Equally, do we ask the question but not really want to know the true answer? Everything is fine as long as we are all fine.
What if you ask someone how they are and that intuition tells you 'Hmmm, I'm not sure if they are fine', you then said 'No, how are you really?' - maybe, just maybe someone might say 'well actually, not that great' and you might be able to lend an ear. New territory and possibly a little difficult for both, but a big bit human and compassionate. Asking how someone is with a genuine interest, may be all it takes to help someone offload a little bit and feel a little more well.
Something to think about.