Who We’ll Be After This

The Power of Listening After Asking ‘How Are You?’

What happened when I looked outside of my noisy head

Paul Ollinger
Published in
3 min readJun 18, 2020
Photo illustration. Sources: Oliver Rossi/Getty Images, Westend61/Getty Images, Brigitte Sporrer/Getty Images

On a recent walk around the block, I saw my neighbor, Ted, coming the other way.

Ted and I are friendly, but don’t know each other that well. I threw out a “Hey buddy!” but didn’t break stride. While he’s usually good for a smile and a wave, all I got in return were raised eyebrows and a lukewarm head nod.

In my pre-quarantine days, I would have thought, “Well, Ted’s being a bit of a crab today,” and maintained my brisk 21-minute-per-mile pace. But these are not normal times, so I crossed the street and stopped six feet short.

“You hangin’ in there, man?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s going okay,” he answered, not at all convincingly. Fortunately, I learned that Ted still has a job, and everyone in his house is healthy. But the stress of trying to work from home while juggling two young kids who can’t attend school or camp was obvious.

I didn’t ask any prying questions, so I still don’t know what was really on his mind. It could be that there are layoffs looming at work, perhaps he was worried about his aging parents, or maybe he had been arguing with his spouse. (If you haven’t had at least one epic disagreement with your partner since March 13, please send me the name of your pharmacist.)

Ted and I didn’t talk long, and I didn’t say anything terribly wise or insightful. But the point was: I listened. I hope that, in doing so, I helped a tiny bit.

Over the past 95 days, I’ve taken about 107 walks. On those strolls, I’ve noticed that, among neighbors and strangers alike, we are all waving at each other like we’re on boats. And we’re not just saying “hey” like we used to, out of courtesy and obligation. Now it feels like we’re saying, “Hello, real human being, I see you,” and “Thanks for seeing me. It feels good to be seen.”

Observing this new mutual awareness reminded me of a conversation I had earlier this year with Dominic Houlder, a professor at London Business School and an author who writes about Buddhism. Because I hear the word “mindfulness” tossed around so often, I asked him to define…



Paul Ollinger
Writer for

Comedian. Host of the Crazy Money podcast. Proud former Facebook and Yahoo! sales person/leader. http://PaulOllinger.com/podcast