The Journal Gazette
Friday, March 31, 2017 1:00 am

Beyond niceties, you'll find real people

Ahmed Abdelmageed

How are you?

A question often asked in passing, in an exchange of pleasantries between two people. A question that is almost always answered in the same casual vein in which it was asked. It's as if we've become conditioned to consider deeper discussions about our wellbeing a social faux pas. Time is money in our modern capitalistic society, and money cannot be made by talking about “emotions.”

Such shallow niceties are so fragile that a simple test of what we supposedly stand for as a society has sent our collective moral compass in a spinning frenzy. No wonder we are broken.

How often do we stop and think about how we drone on as supposed members of a supposed society without much consideration of our fellow human beings? Many of us have deep feelings, thoughts, worries and aspirations, but how many of us know that about each other? No, I don't mean doing that with the random person on the street. But what if we truly took the time to do so with the friend/partner/neighbor/colleague?

How often do we really ask the question intently? How often do we answer it meaningfully? How are we to understand and appreciate the struggles of a black person or an immigrant or a working-class white man/woman if we can't get past the lip service of a shallow nicety that is expected as a show of “civility” but never really used as a means of understanding the person of whom we're asking the question?

How are we to have a healthy functioning society if we don't even know what is going on with those we work with, live around, or even sometimes call friends? There is a lot more to the person we interact with, and if we don't invest the time in getting to know each other better, then we will never heal our societal wounds.

We are dealing with a lot of issues that affect us on many different levels, yet we seem to either brush them aside or become keyboard warriors, hiding our thoughts and emotions behind the false guise of internet anonymity. Issues such as immigration, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and attacks on faith principles, as well as the rampant sense of nationalism over true patriotism, the divisive/divided/dividing political system, glaring health care disparities, and the widening gap between rich and poor, are all created by the sense of foreignness we develop by not engaging each other in meaningful conversations.

So I ask you, if such problems are of our own creation, then what is stopping us from creating solutions instead? We can't acknowledge and appreciate what we don't know, and we can't know without at least having a conversation.

So I am going to leave you with a challenge. I urge you to text, call, email someone you know. Take them out to lunch, grab a cup of coffee, go for a walk. Have a thoughtful conversation. Go ahead – ask someone how they are doing like you mean it.

Ahmed Abdelmageed is assistant dean of experiential education and community engagement at the Manchester University College of Pharmacy and an associate professor of pharmacy practice.

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