When Martin Luther King Jr. took over Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL, he insisted on a small social shift after his sermons that was immediately noticed. As he mingled with his parishioners on Sundays, he wouldn’t ask them what they were doing, the way previous pastors had. Instead, he looked them in the eye and said, How are you doing?
In the segregated South, where opportunities were short and times were tough, the implications of the former question made people uncomfortable. It made them insecure. But to be asked how they were doing, how they were feeling, whether they were ok? That meant everything. It was a subtle and generous bit of a social grace—one of many that made King such a great leader.
It’s also something we can pick up on as parents. Our kid comes home from school; do you ask them how they did on their math test, or do you inquire how they feel about it? Do you ask your college-age daughter if she’s picked a career yet—the yet being loaded with implications? Or do you just talk to her about her interests? You can say “What did you do?” or you can say “Is everything OK?”
Life is hard enough when you’re a kid. Nobody needs somebody assuming the worst. Nobody needs your loaded words or your assumptions. They want to feel like you care. They want to connect. They want to know that you see.
Can you do that?