When we ask others how they’re doing, let’s care about the answer

Superficial greetings can sometimes cause people to suffer in silence

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by Brandon Hudgins |

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“Hey, how are you doing?”

It’s a common question that we use to greet everyone from close friends to the cashier at a local coffee shop. If you are a rare disease patient, you’ve likely encountered this scenario at some point on your journey. Someone may ask this basic question and you have to stand there and pause. Do you answer honestly or do you lie?

If you answer honestly, you have to tell them you aren’t well. In fact, you are quite the opposite — you are not very well at all. If you just smile and tell a little white lie, you are forced to continue suffering in silence.

Is it just me, or am I the only one who thinks it is an awful thing to ask someone if you don’t really care how they are doing?

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When you stop and think about it, how many times a day do you ask people that question but don’t really anticipate the answer? I know it’s simply a greeting here in the U.S., but you don’t have to have a rare disease to have a bad day and be forced to answer with a lie and a fake smile: “I’m fine.”

Worse, if you’ve spent any time working in the service industry, you likely have been coached to put on a smile for customers who aren’t always pleasant.

When you’re a rare disease patient who often is not well, you may have previously made the mistake of answering honestly. Most people probably don’t want to hear that you aren’t OK, or at least that’s what it seems. And what an awful feeling to know that if you answer honestly, you might ruin their day, or receive a reply like, “Well, that’s depressing.”

We humans are actually good at determining other people’s moods and energy. We constantly assess this to determine if people are a threat. It’s a thing our brains have evolved to do to help protect us. You can look at people’s faces and body language and tell if they are sad, mad, happy, tired, excited, depressed, or anxious. So why do we continue asking people to lie?

Learning to pay attention

As someone who has not been fine for long periods of time, I can say that I haven’t always handled these situations well. I’ve nuked a few friendships and embarrassed a few customers at work because I answered honestly.

Having recognized how these interactions make me feel, I try to ask that question as a greeting only if I care about getting an honest answer. When I get a mindless reply, I start probing. I know I’m not going to change the culture, but I feel I can make those around me more comfortable and open to sharing their struggles. I believe we need to normalize not being OK.

I don’t know if this will help to ease the problem of people suffering in silence. But I do know that it could go a long way toward making us better humans. Suffering in silence strips people of their humanity and community connections. I’ve experienced it, and I know others have, too.

I doubt we’ll all cut this question from our vocabulary, but at least we can learn to ask follow-up questions when we see others swallowing their feelings. We might just make someone’s day. And in turn, that will make the world a little better for all of us.

Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.


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