“Are you okay?”, and other important questions

In thinking about this post, a number of other potential titles crossed my mind. Amongst them, “A simple guide to relating” and “The (almost) lost art of conversation”. I’ve been feeling quite disgruntled with the superficial level of chatter in some social gatherings. The conversation goes here and there. Discussions started get interrupted and derailed, going off in different directions. At the end of it I am left wondering what of substance has actually been said.

I’ve noticed another characteristic of interactions that result in a ‘heart-sink’ feeling for me. It’s the ones where I seem to be asking all of the questions of other people, in the absence of any reciprocation.

Which leads me to the “Are you okay?” question. Too often we hear of the suicide of someone well known in a sporting or occupational community. We hear the person’s peers wax lyrical about how valued they were, accompanied by statements like ‘we are a family’. Given some of the experiences I’ve had in friendship circles, I sometimes wonder how much interest or care was really shown to the person when they were alive. Asking the question ‘are you okay?’ is a good start. But did the conversations go any deeper, or just deteriorate into idle chatter? When this happens to me I find it quite an isolating and devaluing experience, and I am ‘okay’. How are superficial and one-sided conversations being experienced by a person who is already emotionally fragile?

Last year I attended a BIG high school reunion. Talking to a friend I hadn’t seen for the 10 years since the last one, I asked ‘What’s important to you in your life at the moment David?’ After he spoke to this for a bit, he then said ‘And what’s important to you in your life Jo?’ Oh the joy of being asked!! These are the sorts of conversations we need to be having with our friends. Two-way conversations that invite some reflection and discussion about purpose, meaning, struggles, and plans.

So, now that I have that off my chest, I would love to know – what is important to you in your life at the moment? Please leave a comment and let’s start really talking!

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  • Margaret Rowe says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments and observations as I have experienced similar interactions. Theodore Zeldin in his little book Conversation states that ‘conversation should change people, that real conversation catches fire. It involves more than sending and receiving information.’ So I believe ingredients for a meaningful conversation include genuine interest and curiosity, time, a willingness to really listen to different perspectives, courage to express your own viewpoints as long as it is done respectfully, not taking yourself too seriously and a desire to continue learning from others. Not easy I know. Margaret

  • Tina says:

    Oh Jo, I hear exactly what you’re saying. I come away from gatherings sometimes, feeling absolutely gutted that no one seems really interested in anyone else…it’s all just superficial chat. I have a very close friend who asks me how I am…but then proceeds to tell me how she is…even if I get a few words in, I can tell that she’s just waiting to get back to herself!! When I mentioned this to her once, she got very upset and didn’t believe that she was truly like that…

    • Jo says:

      Tina you showed great courage in giving your friend this feedback. It’s a shame it fell on deaf ears. I’ve noticed a lot of deaf ears out there, except when it comes to hearing their own voices!

  • Barbara says:

    The art of ‘listening’ needs to be embraced. We need to listen 100% in order to engage in meaningful conversation. Sometimes the keenness to reply, before the other person has finished their sentence, destroys the moment. Even I have been guilty of this, and later, in a quiet time of reflection, I wonder what important revelation or feeling I trampled on in my haste to be heard.
    Often alcohol at gatherings changes the mood of the moment. How many people go home empty or lacking any meaningful interaction. Coffee with friends can be beneficial for a more balanced conversation.

    • Jo says:

      You have made some terrific points Barb. I’m glad you and I have had the chance to have some really personal conversations – even if we did have a glass of wine in our hands!

  • I know exactly what you mean. Over the past few years I have noticed this more and more and to be honest made a decision to be with the people who are ‘real.’ I’ve been out for coffee catch ups with friends in the past and these are one on one by the way. They may ask ‘so, what’s been happening with you, how is ……?’ I was really noticing how little they really listened. Eyes would wander around, checking their phone and then changing the subject instantly. I would always make sure it was two sided and never went on and on. When I was listening I gave them my full attention and really listened properly, asked questions, elaborated etc. In the end I found I didn’t look forward to these catch ups at all. I now surround myself with true friends, we all listen intently and are really there for each other. I am much happier having a few very close friends whom I enjoy being with than a whole group.

    We also catch up differently. For example I met a friend last week and we walked and chatted for just under two hours around a lake in the sun. It was a lovely two way conversation and we both listened and took it all in. It was ‘real.’

    You have a lovely blog Jo and well I’m going to go and click on your ‘cooking’ tab now.

    Have a great day – kyliemarie from the forum.

    • Jo says:

      Aren’t these experiences just so disheartening Kylie?! It’s a brave decision to simply step out of some relationships and gatherings, but an important decision to make. I’m so glad that you have found others who are just like you – true listeners who know where you are up to in life and care enough to ask about this. I agree that where you catch up is also significant – my best conversations with girlfriends are often on weekends away. Thank you for your lovely feedback on my blog!

  • sizzlesue15 says:

    Hi Jo I totally agree. Sometimes I think I’m just here to ask how everyone else is and they all assume I’m okay. I found your blog from the Top 20 Mature Bloggers to follow as I was on the list as well. It is lovely to connect and I hope to get to know you through your blog. I’m Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond and I live in Brisbane. Have a beautiful day Jo.

    • Jo says:

      Sue thanks so much for your comment, and it’s nice to meet you! It seems many people have experienced the disappointment of the one-sided conversation, and are re-evaluating some relationships as a consequence. I was so excited, as I’m sure you were, to be included in Janet’s Top 20 Mature Bloggers! Warmest congratulations to you for making the list!

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