All of our interactions are so short these days, it's easy to walk away with nothing. It seems that the first person to say, "Hello, how are you?" gets as much of a mouthful of how you are as the brief exchange can accommodate before you're so far out of hearing range that your "how are you?" hits the floor somewhere between the two of you.
It's gotten to the point where when we have the time, we still don't take it. We're programmed to answer the how are you without a reciprocal invitation. You can see it on places like Facebook, where someone will post a status, and a friend will comment only to have the original poster comment on the comment as if the whole thing is about them.
Status: "Just saw Lady Antebellum in concert."
Comment: "Man, I'm jealous. Remember two years ago when we went to that KISS reunion concert together? That was awesome. You should have invited me to this one; we would have had good times."
Comment on comment: "This one was so much better than that. They did a whole extended play of Need You Now and I was in the front row with my lighter. I lost my voice. haha."
Do you see what happened there? The original poster in this made-up scenario completely blew off both the opportunity to remember and the chance to engage someone else because he/she was busy telling her story.
Those around us are players in our story, too. And if we get so trapped in what we're trying to say that we lose them as sub-characters or worse, scenery or worse, audience, then we're putting at stake our ability - as a community - to tell a vibrant story.
If we're always telling our own story, getting our own words out, focusing on our own experiences, answering the world's how are yous with our autobiographies, we're missing the chance to see where our stories might overlap with the stories of those around us and how we could grow them into a life-changing narrative for our neighborhoods.
This all hit me last week with a Facebook post I wrote. It was about my latest baking disaster - a family recipe I'd received and tried twice. And ruined twice. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong, but during that second batch, my instinct told me the problem. I followed the recipe anyway, failed, and posted about it on Facebook. Something about "Always follow your baker's intuition, even when the family recipe you're using came from your grandmother." A sister from my church responded with her baking mishap, and it was an invitation to write something back.
I composed a reply and sat there thinking about it. Posted it, then deleted it, and drafted another. You see, in my first reply, I had started with "I" and gone straight back into my story. In my second reply, I started with her name. Acknowledged her story. It changed the tone of the way I read the conversation, and it said something to me.
We need to be a people who don't start with "I," but who start with "hey." We need to acknowledge one another, even when it's tempting not to. And you might think it's easy, but it's harder than you think. For instance, I can't tell you how many times I've walked through the store and said a hey, how are you to someone only to have them say, "doin' good" and walking off. And I've done it to a number of people. Even if it's formality at first, we have to get back to the reciprocal "hey."
Because when we start with "hey" instead of "I," we're starting into a story that's bigger than our own. Not only that, but we're adding a story to our own narrative, something that helps us get outside ourselves and see. It's another way of giving up our win for something bigger.
The next time you're tempted to start your sentence with "I," start it with "hey" instead. Choose to start more than a story; start a conversation.
So that is my challenge: for the next three weeks (as long as it takes to make a habit), turn your "I" into a "hey." Consciously choose to acknowledge the one who has just acknowledged you. See what stories you can tell together and how much more connected you will feel with your friend, your family, your community.