I’m Fine: A Random Sunday Rant
How about we all do something different? Something beyond the realm of what’s “normal” and “socially acceptable?”
Time and time again, I hear the same simple conversation between people.
“Hi, how are you?”
“Good. How are you?”
This mindless interaction goes on everywhere, all the time. What prompted this ongoing unconscious dialog between two people? I’ve engaged in this exact conversation countless times because I feel like I HAVE TO. It’s “normal.” It’s expected. And if someone else starts it by asking me “how are you” I feel OBLIGATED to answer, “Good. How are you?” to complete the meaningless conversation.
I can’t possibly fathom that EVERYONE is “good” All. The. Time. But when a complete stranger, or a mere acquaintance, and for that matter sometimes even a friend does ask, regardless of how we are doing, “good” is the typical if not expected response. Good. And occasionally it may vary. Great, ok, fine. But it’s all in the same category of good.
How many of these people REALLY want to know how you’re doing if you’re not doing well? And do we REALLY want to answer if we’re not good? “Well, my life is falling apart and I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown …” Don’t want to go there. Nobody does. Not the one asking the question and most definitely not the one that has to answer it.
I’ve been doing a personal social experiment with this conversation. I’ve told some people- people that I know, and would consider acquaintances- that I refuse to answer that question because most people don’t care and/or don’t want to know the real answer, they just want to hear “good”. Since then, subsequent conversations have become awkward and stiff. As if suddenly we don’t know how else to start a conversation, what to say or if we should even say anything at all!. These were people that I’m friendly towards and are friendly towards me but I’m not very close to and would never divulge to or confide in.
I’ve also flat out ignored the question when posed by someone I know but would not consider a friend or acquaintance. A recognized member of my community, a clerk at a grocery store, asked the question when I walked in. I said nothing. So I basically completely ignored her. Which from her perspective probably seemed pretty bitchy. Or at least socially unacceptable. I wasn’t intending to be a bitch, I just didn’t want to lie to her and say “I’m good” when I wasn’t. And I wasn’t. I immediately felt this bizarre uncomfortableness that lingered and followed me around the store. I’ve seen the same clerk a couple times since, and she hasn’t asked again. And there’s now definitely an awkwardness between us. Because I stepped way outside the social norm.
With others, I’ve avoided the question and changed the focus to something weather related.
“How are you?”
“Brr, it’s cold outside!”
“Oh, I know, it’s freezing”
That avoidance had the most ease in the situation. They probably didn’t even notice that I didn’t answer the question. Or … did they even realize they had asked the question? It’s so automatic for most of us. Sometimes I’ve responded with a friendly “heeyyy” or “hello” but both of these responses again felt awkward. Not as bad as the other two situations but still a little funny.
The whole thing steams my clams. But the worst is when I myself genuinely DO care and intentionally ask someone the question and get the bullshit answer.
So, how do we know when the asker really DOES care and wants a real answer? It’s safe to say that people we don’t know or aren’t close to DONT want a real answer. Acquaintances, MAYBE. Friends and family most likely but not always!
I got into a conversation about this conundrum with a good friend of mine. He’s traveled quite a bit in the time I’ve known him and his experience is that it’s a cultural thing. Other cultures in the world don’t acknowledge each other like that. When did we Americans become so unconscious? So tuned out of each other? So uncaring and alone that we ask a question that we DONT want to hear the answer to, and we also don’t want to GIVE a truthful answer to.
I mean really, I get it that we’re not all holding hands and singing kumbaya. We don’t all love each other and we all know people that we cannot stand. But how about we do something different? The easiest solution would be to just stop asking. Maybe over time, as we hear the question less and less, we could come to know that the people who DO ask it would genuinely want to know the real answer and we would be more inclined to GIVE a real answer instead of lying and saying “good.”
It’s probably not realistic to expect an entire culture of people to make such a radical change, especially when it’s so automatic, so ingrained. What to do? I don’t exactly want to never ask. But I don’t like getting the bullshit answer, especially from people I care about.
How about starting with “nice to see you!”? Imagine the response! What if the next time you go to the grocery store, the gas station, the bank, anywhere, the next time someone asks and you know they don’t want to know, instead of “good, how are you”, say “nice to see you.” Or better yet, don’t even give time for the question, just START with ”nice to see you.”
Wait… me?.. Me?! It’s nice for them to see me? My heart just melted a little bit. It’s nice to be seen!
Could we make a dent in the mindlessness and a step towards more caring and kindness by saying something else, or would that just become an equally numb and mindless replacement?
Going forward, I won’t ask unless I really mean it. And I won’t answer unless I know the asker really means it. But that still doesn’t solve GETTING the bullshit answer when I’m genuinely asking.
Maybe I’ll just talk about the weather.