There is an article that I haven’t stopped thinking about since the first time I came across it on one of my all-time favorite blogs, A Cup of Jo.
A little background. A few weeks ago was one of the harder weeks I’ve faced. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that when the going gets tough, it clarifies what’s important, and it clarifies it fast. The things I know to be true:
Life is all about relationships. Really all. about. them. There wasn’t a single time I picked up the phone that week without someone available on the other end of the line. I called my second sister, Ashley, late one night, and within minutes she had rallied a group of friends to go out – not even hinting that she had actually been sleeping when she’d heard my call. I texted my actual sister about 100 times a day, and she reciprocated with probably twice that. We (or maybe it’s just me) can get so caught up in the day-to-day craziness of life, climbing the ladder, paying the bills… but when life becomes raw, n-o-n-e of that matters. I unabashedly believe that the quality of one’s life is directly related to the quality of one’s relationships. I felt humbled by the people in my corner that week – their selflessness, their sincere care, their commitment to pointing me in the right direction when I wasn’t sure which way was up.
Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. I’ve always thought of this as my favorite quote, but the past year, it’s really been worth its weight in gold. What I believe to be true, and what I’ve seen over and over again, is that every single person has something that they think about more than they want to, something that they are working through, something that is a trigger or weak spot or battle for them. And that, often at the height of the struggle, they may feel like they are in it alone. We are all each other’s keepers. We may not know why someone reacts aggressively, or evades certain questions, or acts the way they do in seemingly common situations. But what I do know is that, even if we can’t see what the battle is, we can trust that it’s there, and it’s in our power to be kinder than we need to be, if that’s all we can do to help.
So back to the article, which is about the kinds of questions that can save our relationships. There are parts of it that I can’t relate to yet, since I’m not a parent and I can’t promise that I wouldn’t choose to babysit a puppy over an actual child most days… But there is a human element that I do think almost everyone can relate to. When we ask each other questions, a simple, ‘How was your day?’ might not always cut it, because a day can involve so many highs and lows, and it’s not really what we’re getting at anyway. When I ask, ‘How was your day?’ what I mean is that I want to know what made the person happiest that day, and why, and if they felt sad at all that day, and if I can help, and what about the day made them stronger or braver or weaker or better versions of themselves. So those are the questions we could start with instead, or at least make it a point to get to. They’re the questions that I’ll try to ask more of, because life is all about our people — and the weeks that remind us this is true.
We learned that if we really want to know our people, if we really care to know them – we need to ask them better questions and then really listen to their answers. We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: “I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.” If we don’t want throw away answers, we can’t ask throw away questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.
P.S. My favorite real-life reminder of the quote, “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”