Alphabet Series - M is for Meeting
Why is it when acquaintances pass by each other they ask “How are you?” and don't stop to find out the real answer? That phrase, that so many people utter when they meet, is on my list of pet peeves.
Before I took off on this rant, I decided to look up the origin of the phrase. Perhaps your research skills are better honed than mine, but I could not find any solid information on when people started to ask that question (when they had no real desire to know the answer). It seems very strange to me that we live in a culture where people often greet one another with a question that they don’t really want truthfully answered. I can understand when you are with a close friend and you ask this question because you care and want to know. I have no issue when that happens and, in fact, tend to not like it when my friends neglect to ask me how I am. I want those people close to me to care about my welfare. But when people ask me how I am with no intention of wanting to really know, it annoys me.
I am sure many of the people who I pass and who ask me how I am do care about my welfare. They just don’t want to take the time to get into it. If I replied with some version of “I am really glad you asked. I have been having the hardest time,” I imagine they would stop and ask me what is going on. Or at least I would like to think they would want to know. But, I know social etiquette requires me to say some version of I am fine and not draw the person into the particulars of my life. But, why, I ask myself, have we chosen as a culture to do this? There are many other things we could say that don’t require us to misrepresent ourselves. I usually stick with “Good to see you” which is usually enough (especially if they keep on walking) and does not necessitate the other person lying about their state of being. Although, to be truthful, it may prompt them to lie about their being happy to see me - which may or not be true. That is why a quick walk by is often satisfactorily sufficient much of the time graced with a warm nod of recognition.
I have one colleague at work who has solved this situation by just commenting on the weather whenever our paths cross. It is a safe subject and one we share and it does not require either of us to say something about the weather that is not true for us. Usually people are honest about the weather so while I don’t always value my snippets of weather related conversation I encounter during the day, at least we be can be pretty honest with each other about a topic we have in common. I have another colleague who when she sees me approaching often launches into some version of “Did you hear about?” This too can lead to mostly honest conversation about topics that are not directly related to our health and well being. But, to be truthful, I prefer when she talks about general news and not the latest gossip, however honest or fake it may be.
I offer this post to you as an opportunity for you to consider how you greet the acquaintances in your life. There are the people you know who you pass by and want to acknowledge but don't really want to stop and talk. What do you want to say to them? Then there are people who you want to connect with in some way, but aren’t really going to get into telling them about your current aches, pains, stressors and challenges. What do you say to them? When you say hello to people you encounter but don't really have the time or inclination to more fully engage, might there be something you can say that will be slightly more genuine and true to the moment.? Think about it.
That said, I hear my share of "Hey, how are you?" and reply with some version of "Fine and you?" as we pass by each other. I continue to endeavor to be as honest and forthcoming as I can be. While there are times I wish I was perfect at something or at least a step or two better than where I am, I also no perfection could be a direction, but it is not a goal.