When people say to you ‘How are you?’ do they really want to know how you are or are they just going through the motions of being polite?
I know it’s mostly just a social nicety but more and more I’m starting to feel like I’ve spent two decades deflecting from answering this question honestly with a ‘Good thanks, how are you?’ response, and have recently wondered why we go around effectively lying to each other so much. It’s so ingrained that I walk in to see my doctor at his clinic, and he says ‘How are you?’ and I reply with the same banal response… ‘Good thanks, how are you?’, when quite patently I wouldn’t be there if I was actually good?!?
Why do we do that? Do we think our friends and family don’t want to know how we actually are? Do we not want to bring people down with our worries and problems? Do we not want to look weak to the people we know and love… and even less so to the people we don’t know or don’t care for? Do we not trust people to react well if we tell them how we are really doing? Are we ultimately scared that no one really gives a shit and that if we give an honest answer we’re going to become that person that no one wants to talk to because something is always wrong?
I worked with a woman once, Sheryl… she was a typical govt OHS officer, floor fire warden, local union representative, long time public servant type who spent more of her time updating the evacuation response plan for the building than doing her actual job. When we first started together she’d walk in at 9:30-10:00am (I on the other hand was an 8am starter) and say ‘Good morning, how are you today?’. I would invariably bite my tongue and not mutter ‘Good afternoon’, but would reply instead with a civil ‘Good thanks, how are you?’ I hadn’t worked there a month when I started realizing this was a very loaded question and as a general proposition a very bad plan. Most days she would reply with an equally banal ‘Not bad thanks, etc, etc’. But as we got to know each other better… she started actually telling me how she was.
‘Hi Sheryl, how are you?’… Oh, absolutely horrid, the cat threw up all over the carpet this morning and I had to spend an hour scrubbing the vomit off the floor so I missed my train. Eww.
‘Hi Sheryl, how are you?’… Mostly okay, but I have this abscess up here (holds open mouth and retracts lips) on my left molar which is all black and weeping yucky tasting stuff in my mouth so I have to go to the dentist. Ewwww! Overshare!
‘Hi Sheryl, how are you?’ … Dreadful! I had this huge uncomfortable boil on crack of my bottom and I had to go to the doctor to have it lanced, which was okay, but I couldn’t reach to change the bandgage and now it’s all infected and… Ewwwwww! STFU woman!
Needless to say I rapidly got to the point where she would walk in and say ‘Good morning, how are you?’ and I’d respond with ‘Fine thanks. There’s some purchase orders on your desk that need quotes and I’m just popping out for a cuppa.’
I wonder if this is why we are all trained into the going through the motions with the social niceties when people enquire how we are, and rarely actually tell people what we are thinking, how we are doing and what’s going on in our lives? Because ultimately when some people start telling you what’s going on in their lives… no one actually gives a shit. :S