“I’m fine, and you?” That was clever. Put it right back on them! That serves them right for asking such a plebian question. Loser…
Okay, that was the first response. Why? Because you really are miserable, or the question roils you because it’s so damned…invasive? How dare they get in my head and heart…Or maybe, you don’t KNOW how you are since you have not taken your emotional temperature in weeks? Or is it just a sucky, meaningless question?
I’m sure that some of us want to counter with, “you don’t really want to know how I am, so don’t ask!” (Okay, it’s really more of a scream inside your head, than it is a “counter” as that sounds way too polite.) The point is, you want to turn tween-ish and tell the questioner to come up with a better greeting. Then you remember that you, too, also ask this question everyday of people you encounter—the clerk, the barista, the banker, the office mate. Are you on a fact-finding mission with this query or do you intend to let the person in front of you know that you see them, you recognize their humanity and you want to connect, even if it is simply to be pleasant?
Maybe we need to change the question…for ourselves and for others. Folks aren’t going to magically stop asking this question for several reasons: habit, social conditioning, and need for connection. These are not despicable things—in fact, they are necessary! We need social norms so that we can all function civilly with each other. Asking “how are you?” is a quick and pleasant way to relate. The problem has become that we aren’t honest in those everyday connections. Over time, with dishonesty as part of the equation, the staple greeting has been degraded into total joy-suck and annoyance.
What would happen if we took the question seriously and infused some joy into it? Or ask it in a different way? Maybe the words shouldn’t stand alone? Maybe we need to show each other that we see the person first and recognize them. Like, “Hey, Trudy! Good to see you! How are you doing today? What’s up?” Or, “Hi, I’m Lee Ann. I work upstairs and see you every day. What keeps you busy here in this building? And what about when you’re not here at the Starbucks?” (You can see where I spend my time when I’m not slavishly at my computer!)
People are really basically good, good and good. We are those good people, too! Our greetings and every day interactions can dull us, but we aren’t dull. We are anything but boring! The same is true for those we meet. So let’s re-think our “how are yous” and howdy-dos. Let me know what other greetings you come up with! I'm all ears!