Are You OK?
Don't let the answer be the end of the conversation.
This Australian cause is more than just going around and asking random people if they are ok. It is about sparking conversation, and talking about things that matter. It is about talking about the things that affect lives every day- mental illness and suicide- things that are normally brushed under the rug.
Of course, "Are you OK?" is an easy way to start such a conversation, but it certainly isn't the end. People are encouraged to stay and talk with their friends, colleagues, family members, and discuss things that are going on, and things that are troubling them. As mentioned in an earlier blog, this cause last year alone sparked 65,000 conversations- a number pulled from the RUOK Day website, which you can link to from the top of my page this month, and it is also under my "Causes" tab.
These things- mental illness and suicide- are not things that people will often approach you to talk about- often you will have to approach them and ask them how they are doing, build a bond if there is not already one, and ensure faith and confidence. This day helps to pull people from the woodworks- people whom everyone else normally wouldn't talk to- and help them out a bit. It would be nice if people would talk to these sort of people every sort of day, but this is a baby step in that direction.
What this day encourages is friendly conversation, more than just a simple hello. Some people get little more than a hello on a daily basis, and it's quite sad- sometimes this alone can drive depression and other mental illnesses. Engaging in friendly conversation is a healthy and vital part of a person's social life. Reaching out to others who might not have this in their life will help to enhance their life, and quite possibly save them.
This is not just a problem in Australia. Worldwide, there are people who are isolating- some people stay alone for the majority of their day- caregivers, people with social anxiety or agoraphobia, people with disabilities- they have trouble getting out. For me, it would be encouraging to see people not only reach out to those that they see sitting outside or at work, but maybe ring a friend, or a family member that they know doesn't get out much, and ask them how they're doing, have a decent conversation with them, and possibly be their lifeline. You may be the only person they have had a meaningful conversation with in months.
If you can keep up this sort of habit, that would be even better. Perhaps phone once or twice a week, check in on a caregiver or someone who has social anxiety, see if they've done anything, who they've talked to, or even what shows they've watched on TV, how they're feeling, what other kinds of things they've done, what they're interested in doing, etc. Reaching out to someone isn't limited to one day a year, but it's a great place to start.
And reaching out to someone isn't limited to the words "Are you Okay?" These words are just a way to start a meaningful conversation- other words can be used too- "Hey, how's it going?", "Hey, haven't seen you in a while!", "Hey, what have you been up to?"- these are all conversations that could spark conversations. The conversation is just as important as the start. If you leave someone with just the "Are you okay?" and a bleak, meaningless "yeah, I guess"...then you haven't really done much. Question into it, or ask what's troubling them, and you might find more. They might actually appreciate having someone ask about it. Don't push, but let them talk.
Often I find that someone will pass with "Hey, how are you?" and I'll say "OK, I guess" but by the time I've answered, they're already out of earshot. What good has that done? The initiative isn't to just ask a question- the initiative is to make a difference. So go out there, make a difference, ask questions, and engage. You might learn new things, change a day, or change a life. The important thing is, you'll make a difference.