Have you ever attempted to count the number of times over the course of a day when asked, “How are you?”
I haven’t yet, but I think I will tomorrow. Why?
Most everyone rely on a canned response to this nicety of civilized interaction. For example, you walk into a store and are greeted full on with a loud and courteous:
“Good morning! How are you today?”
To which most would reply, “Fine! And you?”
“Fine” is the coward’s answer.
It is commonly assumed that the depth of the question is non-existent. It is not really a question at all, but an acknowledgement of a daily mind-numbing convention that should shame us all in our superficiality.
I was fortunate enough to have this truism of an uncaring life identified to me as a child, and I’ve tried to adhere to my father’s simple advice to counter this bad habit:
“If you ask someone how they are,” my father would demand of my shaping morality, “then look into their eyes and mean it.”
If you don’t mean it, then don’t ask the question, my Dad would go on to say.
Again, if you are going to ask, then mean it. If not, then a simple “Good morning” should accomplish your goal.
And my advice: ask the question sincerely and wait for the answer.
A daily societal ritual has developed into a formula for isolation: the sequestration of honest emotion into silos, and the abrogation of any attempt at a truly sophisticated and connected (i.e. meaningful) conversation.
It is the ultimate small talk, and small talk is for small people.
(Although there are those who propose by their actions that small talk is the most noble of gases. I would suggest that the lightness of the noble gas helium should be forsaken for the greater weight and warming power of the noble gas argon. Helium provides for the cheap thrill; argon is a choice of comfort and security.
Breathing more helium may give a diver a clear head with which to plan one’s battle, but the properties of argon simply keep a diver warm. At the end of the day, spiritual warmth is what matters most; that is, if you are willing to share.)
To continue in dishonesty is a waste of life’s offer – not promise – of time and the squandering of one of life’s few opportunities to connect with a stranger. And it should make us all angry with ourselves for playing the game.
And it is not a little thing.
When the perceived world no longer expects an honest or heartfelt answer to a simple question, that is not being polite; that is being rude in a manner that coarsens the heart and turns our daily lives into a pointless video game.
And we all have the opportunity to change this travesty of omission virtually every day. Take a chance tomorrow; live a little, please listen to strangers. Take a chance and care.
If you are indeed sincere, I guarantee that you will be surprised and even inspired by the answers of you fellow spirit-beings.