I’ve written in the past about my frustration with formulaic greetings foisted on unsuspecting restaurant servers and grocery store clerks.

Now let’s talk about how we all err on the side of ritual and why we have to stop and dig a little deeper. A young woman recently recounted to me her experience of visiting her parents, with her newborn in tow. The baby was napping so she collapsed onto the couch in the TV room with her dad who asked her, “how are you?”. She replied, “I’m fine”, and he said, “no really, how are you?” at which point she burst into tears because no one had asked her that in a truly caring, genuinely interested way, since the baby was born.

Like her, we all need people to care about us, express interest in our well-being, and be available to us if we need to vent, or ask for help, or burst into tears.

As we get back to seeing people face to face we have a wonderful opportunity to move beyond ritual and give each other the gift of empathy. This means not throwing out the ritual question and assuming the ritual answer. It means setting aside extra time to listen and respond and to let people know we really are interested and invested in how they are doing. We’ve all been isolated, anxious, angry, frightened, resentful, confused and exhausted by this past year plus, and getting back together in kindness might be just the therapy that will ease the next phase of life and work.

Joanna Piros