“How are you?” Ugh this question makes me cringe. 

My answer to this is usually “fine.” And not because I am. I am most certainly not fine right now. 

For one, it’s 2020. The world is literally on fire, our democracy is being threatened, and we are living through a global pandemic. All data points to an economic depression with an eviction and foreclosure housing crisis. Our communities continue to experience violence and trauma from racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia.

Oh and among all this, a knife fell on my foot and severed a tendon. So I’ve had a lot of time to literally sit and think the past couple of months as I recover. 

I know that when people ask “how are you?” it is usually to satisfy a social norm and not because they want the real answer. I know that I am supposed to say I am #grateful, #thankful, #blessed. And I am. I have a job that pays a living wage, supportive family and friends, opportunities to thrive, and a safe place to live. 

But I am also not ok. I am not fine.

My answer has been “fine,” or some other equivalent, because I have learned that people are uncomfortable with discomfort. They want quick fixes with sunshine and rainbows. They don’t want to sit in the suck. And most certainly do not want more than a 30-second answer while they multitask and pretend to actively listen. I have watched this unfold time and time again in my life. I used to give honest answers and people got visibly nervous when I said, “I’m not great, how are you?”

But you know what? Hiding my truth to make other people comfortable means that I have not been acting in alignment with my values. It means I have not been transparent, open, honest, and vulnerable. It means that I have been people pleasing. I have been trying to control others’ reactions when I am only responsible for myself. 

So I stopped. 

And you know what? Some people reacted exactly as described above and I felt disappointed and saddened by those responses and relationships. But many others surprised me. By being vulnerable and asking for help, I have found even deeper connections and supports.

This shouldn’t have surprised me. As evaluators, we ask the hard questions because we are curious about the answers. We seek to illuminate truths. We seek to inform and improve programs and policies through the use of data. And we do this not to make broad blanket statements but to really understand for whom, when, and under what conditions programs and policies are working. We want to understand the real-world experiences in our communities.

As an evaluator, I am a professional question asker. And yet personally, the hardest question for me has been to ask for help and depend on others. To show up as fully human in all spaces and let others know my experiences.

So how am I? My truth is that right now I am struggling. I know that I am strong and resilient. I know that I can handle anything thrown at me. I am also frustrated, scared, sad, and tired. Right now I am sitting in the suck. 

Maybe you are too. If so, know that I am here for you. I will sit in the suck with you and in due time, we will both emerge. Maybe not emblazoned in sunshine and rainbows. Maybe like a monarch emerging from its cocoon. Or maybe more like a tortoise whose shell is marked by decades of history. Either way, we will emerge – evolved and stronger and with community. Because we have the courage to ask the hard questions, sit in the suck, and seek the truth.

Thank you Radical (Re)imagining for asking “how are you” this month and really wanting to know.