Even when being verbally economical, I’m rarely at a loss for words. In fact, my entire blog is predicated on the fact that I have something to respond to. Yet, there seems to be one frequently asked questions that always stumps me: how are you?
If ever there were a perfunctory question, that would be it.
Think about how many times in one day you were asked this question. It may be from someone that loves you dearly, or a cashier who you approach at a register somewhere, a kind customer service agent just going through the motions.
Consider, if you will, the amount of times you actually answer that question sincerely. If you’re anything like me, you probably never do.
Every afternoon, when my wife gets home, she tends to ask me how my day went. I answer this question in the same way are usually answer people when they ask me how I am doing. I simply say, “I am fine.” Fine. Four nebulous letters, but what, exactly, does that mean?
Technically, it’s in a satisfactory or pleasing manner. Wrestling with the appropriateness of this word, I give up. I guess when it comes down to it, it would take more time to explain how I am really doing than I feel like spending.
Then I wonder, do people actually care if I give the correct answer? Would they be prepared? Would they empathize, or they dismiss me as an over-sharer? on a a given day, my response could be “terrible,” and I’m sure it would catch the asker off-guard.
Most the time, I am not fine. I am far from fine. Average, maybe? But fine? Rarely.
Why do we ask questions for people that we are not prepared for the response?
Whenever I talk to my mom, she asks me that question. How are you doing? And my response? You guessed it. Fine. Except when my mom asks me, she doesn’t really want to know about how I’m doing. She wants to know about how I’m feeling, how my disease is treating me. You see, since I was 19, I’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although my disease is stable and on a daily basis, I feel fairly average, I know when my mom question, she wants to make sure that I am actually as fine as I’m claiming to be.
The question isn’t open-ended enough, and we are falsely polite in its asking. We aren’t equipped to handle any answer other than something like fine.
We need both a better question and a willingness to address any response.