How often do you hear this question in a day? And how often do we ask this question in a day?
I’m guessing lots – especially if you’re in any kind of job that deals with members of the public. But don’t you think there’s a lot of interpretations of this one question – depending on who’s asked it, where you are and what’s been going on in your day? Quite often ‘how are you’ just becomes a phrase for ‘hello’. I mean, does that stranger actually want to know how I am? Would they thank me for gushing all my worries and concerns infront of them? Yeah probably not. And I’m unlikely to do that.
So, how *are* you?
Do I think we should boycott asking the question of anyone? Well, no, because it’s a phrase that’s a standard part of our language. It’s a code for saying a little bit more than hello, but a little bit less than giving someone all your personal details and thoughts. But what are we gaining by asking it? Are we just feigning care and consideration? I think I’m right in saying that I do rarely ask this question unless I’m interested in an answer – although the use of the phrase is so automated, it’s hard to tell. Is that really my place to ask a stranger how they are? Do they really want to answer? And what are we going to say after that?
“Hi. How are you?”
“Fine, thanks. And you?”
“Yes, fine thanks.”
End of conversation. Because we all know what happens then if you’re starting a conversation with a stranger in that way. You smile, shift your gaze somewhere else and feel awkward. If you’re really lucky, a conversation about the weather will ensue. Or, very occasionally said stranger might actually answer the question.
“Not good actually, myson/husband/brother/father/uncle is unwell..” etc
Don’t get me wrong, I am not unsympathetic here. But if a stranger replies with that I’m sure I’m not alone when I admit it makes me exceptionally uncomfortable. I don’t know this person, I don’t know their situation, their relationship with the person they’re talking about, how ‘unwell’ ‘unwell’ really is. All that’s been created is a half story where the detail is sketchy and you have no idea if you’re expected to follow it up or not. What is the expectation in the conversation on me?
Of course, ‘how are you’ with friends or family is a completely different question. At least it is once you get past the initial standard response of ‘Fine thanks, and you?”. Because we all do it. We have our standard response, and even when someone that we care about and that we respect asks on our wellbeing we still slap on the smile and give the standard response. Maybe that’s for two reasons:
a) We want to be fine (and maybe we are!) and so saying we are makes that true. Of course, the likelihood that we are ‘fine’ is probably fairly minimal. I am very often not fine at all – I’m a whole host of things. Happy, sad, unsure, thoughtful, mad, crazy, sick. Infact, I am more than a one-emotion kind of person. But, you know, “I’m fine” for some reason sums the entirety of my emotional side up. And why do we view it as a weakness to admit otherwise? To admit that we genuinely have feelings? That we might answer that question with our genuine thoughts?
b) We’re creatures of habit. Without thinking we’ve already responded to the question like a robot. Like a button has been pressed and the response is automated. In the same way that when someone sneezes I say “bless you”. Whether I’m blessing them or not is a discussion for a whole other day – don’t worry!
All this has got me thinking that I might hold onto my ‘How are you?’s” or perhaps I’ll have some fun with my responses in future. I want my words to matter. I want people to know that there’s meaning behind them and they aren’t just a robotic question or response.Going back to Love – is this a simple thing something that I can use to show some kindness to those around me? That when I ask how they are, I *want* to know and I *want* to listen.
And incase you’re wondering: I am not fine – because I am more than just that one word.