While I do appreciate the intended friendliness of it, I really dislike the common social convention of asking, “How are you?” in the casual, mindless, repetitive way most of us do. If you think about it, it’s actually sort of an important question for one human being to ask another and I don’t think we ought to be asking it when we don’t really want, or have time to hear a genuine answer. We cheapen it by the formulaic, near robotic way we ask it and respond to it. I find myself constantly forced by this question to either lie or create an awkward situation by answering truthfully. Of course I realize I will never succeed in eliminating this ubiquitous piece of conversational garbage from our collective repertoire, but I have to try. At the very least I want to stop personally participating in it. If you ask me this question as a greeting, here are some of the ways I may respond.
- Quote Monica from “Friends”: “Do you want me to cry? Is THAT what you want? Do you wanna SEE me CRY?!”
- Ask, “Compared to what?”
- A variation on the usual answer just adding one word to make it true – “Not well, and you?” (Probably wouldn’t even be noticed half the time.)
- Pretend I did not hear the question, just smile and say, “Hello.”
- Actually just start crying.
I have used most of these at one time or another . . . not always on purpose. Really, I think the best solution would be to replace the question with a statement – “Hello, I hope you are well today!” Cool, great, thanks for the high hopes and for not asking me a personal question that neither of us really wants to talk about right now while you are bagging my groceries (or whatever.) So I’m going to try to start saying something like that whenever I start, out of habit, to ask the question. Unless – and this could happen too – I really truly want you to tell me How You Are Doing Right Now, and I have time to listen.