As I did not grow-up here and I came from a different culture, there is one question that I still don’t know how to answer truthfully even after two decades of being in the US. I am being asked this question several times a day too. I don’t think many people answer this question right as well. And it is a question that we may be asking people to lie.
You might be thinking it must be some kind of a difficult question or a complicated one. What is the question?
The question is the run-of-the-mill, perfunctory “How are you?”
Yes, we are being asked “How are you” several times a day. When we walk down the street, or down the hallway, or as we enter our workplace, or just about anywhere, people greet us with “How are you?”
I know most of the times we ask this question just to be polite. I know as well that there’s some variances in the question in some parts of the country, like “how ‘s it going” or “what’s up” or “howdy” or “hey’all.”
When I was still living in New York City, I don’t think people ask “how are you” that often, or greet that much for that matter. Or perhaps they just mind their own business. I would admit though that since I moved to the Midwest, I am being asked this question more everyday, even by people who I don’t know.
So how do you answer this question?
Do you answer also with the perfunctory “good” or “fine?” Or maybe you are really doing well so you can answer “great!” Or do you give a more honest answer, like “not good” if you’re really not feeling fine. But I don’t think people are expecting an answer different from “I’m good.” Besides we don’t want to burden other people of our own problems, right?
What would happen if a person whom you barely know, would answer you “I feel awful,” or “I feel bad.” You may think they are whiny or a grouch. But you asked them “how are you,” and they just gave you a truthful answer. Perhaps if you really don’t want to know, then don’t ask.
This is the reason, I really don’t ask this perfunctory question that much. If I want to greet someone, or be polite, or exchange pleasantries, I greet them with “good morning,” or “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” Though I may be lying with that greeting too, as it may not be really a “good” morning or evening. But at least I’m not forcing anybody to say “I’m good” when they may not be feeling good.
However due to my work, I still ask this question every day. But when I ask this question to my patients, especially in the hospital, I expect them to give me an honest answer. In fact I would be surprise if they say “I’m fine.” For if they are fine, they would not be seeing a doctor in the hospital in the first place.
So I can truthfully say that when I asked this question, I really meant to know how you are doing.
Or perhaps I am just so cynical, thinking people ask “how are you” or “how do you do” without really meaning it. Maybe they really do care to know how you feel.
In the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, it says:
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky,
Are also on the faces of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands saying, “How do you do?”
But they’re really saying, “I love you.”…….
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Maybe I got it all wrong. And maybe this is really a wonderful world.