April 27, 2015
How are you?
That question will be posed billions of times today, in English. If asked of a person – via satellite phone – who is on the streets of Katmandu today, dealing with the devastation of a 7.8 earthquake, they would likely express gratitude for life, but their helpless need for everything to survive.
But that’s Nepal, not New York. We’re on the North American continent, and pleasantries are expressed just to get the conversation jump-started: you can get into trouble if you are just learning the language, and think that the query is posed with a desire to hear an honest reply.
Listen to an Eastern European university student in America trying to figure it out: “One of the most challenging aspects of being an international student is that you not only have to master a foreign language, but also to recognize the meaning that hides behind the words…
“Almost every day I am asked, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ I’m expected to respond, ‘Good’ or ‘Fine,’ and ask the other person how they are, to which they will also respond, ‘Good…’
“To this day, this style of greeting strikes me as an abuse of a question with which people show care and concern to one another in my culture. When somebody asks, ‘How are you?’ in Hungary, I assume that person is truly interested in my well-being and wants to listen to what I have to share. In the U.S., this expression means, ‘Hi,’ and does not imply that the person is the least bit interested in my personal life…”
Throw-away answers aren’t just private exchanges; every talking-head on live television falls into the same mind-numbing prater. The host: “Welcome to the program.” The guest, “Glad to be here.” Chatty Cathy was a 60’s doll with eleven recorded answers: pull her string, and she would give a random statement from her limited inventory. I think Cathy works down the hall from your office…
Get around the Christian subculture and our dialect becomes even more intriguing. Go ahead: ask your friends who are serious about their faith the caring question: “How are you doing today?” If their theology chip is in-place, their auto-reply is likely to be, “Better than I deserve!” That 18-letter statement defines the five-letter word key to our faith: grace.
What if you could come up with a new, personal response that didn’t have to be re-scripted every day… but forced your talk partner to listen and think? What if you were unique in your status, and could stimulate a response rather than waste your breath?
I’m a wordsmith; this may be more important to me than it might be to you… but, the thing that makes relationships powerful is the words that create the weaving that constitutes the connection. Why use throw-away words, when meaningful, valuable vocabulary could be retained and revisited?
That assignment has me working on my own signature declaration. Here are my finalists:
• Always contented; never satisfied
• Pleased with my progress, but consumed with my calling
• At peace in the present, but urgent about Eternity
So… if you only have a phrase to indicate your current GPS coordinates in the flow of life, what would you declare, to make your life experience compelling?
Paul’s personal status response: “…we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it…” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9).