After thinking about Anthony Bourdain and seeing what other people have posted about his suicide, one theme emerges time and again: despite what’s happening on the outside, you just never know the pain someone’s experiencing on the inside.
As I think about this and its connection to my own life, here’s something we all can do, and it’s simple: the next time we ask someone how he or she is doing, mean it. The question is almost always used as a meaningless pleasantry that serves as a conversational placeholder until we can get to what we really want to talk about. For that reason, the response to that question is also usually cursory, superficial: “I’m fine” or “I’m good” or, for the grammatically savvy, “I’m well.”
I’m guilty of this on both sides of the equation. My “how ya doin’?” is meant to convey general interest, and its slangy familiarity is an attempt at casual friendliness. But how often do I ask it and listen – I mean REALLY LISTEN – to the reply before blowing past it and onto whatever we’re talking about next?
And when someone else asks me this, my response is almost always, “I’m good!” But the truth is simple: I’m not good. I’ve gotten skilled at hiding it, but I’ve been dealing with my own stuff — job-related depression and anxiety, mostly — for almost two years now. An honest answer to this question would be something like, “I’ve been struggling for a while” or “I’m feeling kind of lost” or “I’m not sure what my value is anymore.” And who has time for that? Why would I burden anyone with my own issues?
But maybe we need to make time for each other. To ask and listen. To share and respond. If we want to do our small part to prevent more Anthony Bourdains and Scott Hutchisons and Robin Williamses – as well as all the other unnamed people who might not be famous but whose loss is no less important, no less painful – maybe we need to make more of an effort to learn how people are doing on the inside, even if they seem good on the outside.
To ask, “How are you doing?” and really want to hear the answer, whatever it might be.