Last week, I talked a bit about saying hello and how it can relate to being welcoming to someone. Since then, I have found myself thinking about what is usually said next, “How are you?”

How are you or some variant (How you doing? What’s going on? etc.) would definitely make me feel welcome just about anywhere. The problem is that the majority of people ask how someone is doing as a way of saying hello. At least there is a greeting, but now in the shape that can say a lot about how much the person actually cares how the other is doing. That’s not to say hello and how are you can’t be the same thing, I know a few people for whom that is indeed the case. But try spending a week answering all of the how are yous you get by telling the person how you are doing. Make sure you are in a good mood, it can be depressing and even embarrasing. As such, I think asking how another is doing falls more in line with those we are familiar with (hence the new categories on the blog for Hospitality). Also, this is a question we don’t normally ask The Stranger straight away after hello.

The question of how are you, when meant to actually discover how a person is doing, can be immensely powerful. This question can communicate volumes about how much you care about a person. I think this is why we ask it in different ways even if we use the same words. In some situations, I ask to be polite and while I care, I may not care very much about how the person is doing at that instant. I may care more depending on the answer, but the motive isn’t necessarily out of caring. In other situations, most notable those involving close friends and family, I really do care and am usually ready for the ten minute answer, good or bad. Likewise, you can usually tell when someone is asking to ask and when they are asking because they want the ten minute answer.

I’m seeking to challenge myself even as I continue to say hello even to those who don’t seem to notice my presence before, during, and/or after. In an ideal existance, I would want for people to ask me how I am doing and be ready for the ten minute answer most of the time. Assuming just about everyone would appreciate or benefit from such an world, I’m trying to ask others that very question and be ready for the lengthy response. With my thoughts this week, I’m finding it difficult to ask how someone is doing and be ready for the ten minute answer. Part of it is just not having the energy to care enough. That’s not to say that I don’t care for my friends or the others around me, but my own worries, tasks, and emotional state come to play in this. I find that I simply don’t have the energy to hear the problems or joys of others lately. Sometimes I wonder if the energy I need to care more for others comes from caring for them in the first place. As though you can fake caring until you make it real.

But, assuming I have the energy, I think asking the ten minute how are you will be relatively easy given two things: enough time and the right place. Time in the obvious sense of needing at least ten minutes to get the ten minute answer into. Place in having a good space in which a private or semi-private conversation can occur.

The result of asking such a question can be astounding. I think about the way I feel when I really need to talk to a friend and a friend asks the ten minute how are you without me having to approach anyone at all. It’s wonderful to have someone express that care and gets on your own turf to do so by not waiting for you to bring it up. My entire mood has shifted for the better simply because someone asked me this. In turn, my mood for a day or longer has shifted. In the midst of my depression, such a thing became a strong shield and potent weapon against the darkness that would seem to surround me. Even now during happier times, the reminder such a thing can offer during the occassional off days can have an amazing affect on how “off” the day will be.

Just causing even a small amount of that reaction in another is what I’m talking about by asking how are you, even if it isn’t the ten minute how are you. Just meaning it, however much or honest you may be, can change a life.

So, say hello to your friends and family, then ask them how they are doing. You never know what you’ll do to a person when you do.