Try and reflect on the random responses to this very sincere question in your everyday life: How are you?
I know what you are saying to yourself as you read this post. [ How many times is this question as sincere as this post claims it to be... Like someone really cares for my response!!!! ]. If I have read your mind correctly, then you must be one among the many who face this question every day, from people who ask you, how you are without any context or concern. This scene often amazes me: I waved a bye just last evening to someone and when I meet the same person the next morning, I am faced with a 'How are you?' instead of a 'Good morning', or may be a ' Good morning, How are you?' sequence... and I am standing there thinking, 'When did I ever say I was not fine to this person, at least last evening, I never said anything that warrants this question, this morning...'. This happens every other day with most of us in most places.
When people hear such 'How are you?' questions without any context/concern very often, they fail to understand and give the heart-felt response to the same question asked by a close friend, with concern and in context. Most often the response for the question is 'Fine' and that is all. In return, there are no more questions asked other than a similar ' How are you?'. Another 'Fine' in response comes without a second thought. The conversation ends there. Such people tend to keep things to themselves and not really come out with what they really feel like, because, the question 'How are you?' has become so common and so pointless in their eyes.
Here are some instances when 'How are you?' can be totally pointless:
In the lift lobby rushing to get into the waiting lift car: To a passer-by colleague, 'Hey, How are you?'. [ Totally pointless because, he/she is already in the lift car and the door closes behind, even before the response ].
After last evening's general talk over coffee, the chief meets the junior the next morning, with a 'How are you?' [ What is the expectation here? ]
We all take common statements for granted, all the time. Most questions/statements are really fashion statements instead of a way of talking.
You ask 'How are you?' and when some one says 'I am fine' without any life in their voice, you know there is something that is just not going well and the response only means ' How does it matter to you?' or 'What I say will hurt you'.
I wont say that everybody has to talk everything they feel like to everyone, but there must one person in whom, one must invest trust regarding certain topics. We all are good at thinking out-of-the-box for some situations, not all of them. It is true that we cannot handle everything under the sun for everyone, because we are not that capable, anyway. It is also true that we cannot handle every problem we face ourselves, however capable, competent, and confident we are. In my opinion, when someone asks how we are, we must say 'Fine, thank you' as part of the etiquette that we all have learnt, but then, if the person who is asking the question is close enough to talk to, it is okay to add a clause : but then, I think, I am a little lost in handling this situation...'.
Of course, all of us are habituated to this question, 'How are you?' but then we can think once again, if we should ask 'How are you?' or just say 'Hi' to the person you meet next. In my opinion, when you say 'Hi', you are in effect buying time to think through the next question based on your time, your friend's time, and where both of you are headed to, and if you really care at that point( in the lift car, for instance) about how the other is doing.. It is perfectly okay to ask a comfortable, sincere, 'How are you?' after a long conversation.. Does any law say that 'How are you?' should be the first question you must ask when you meet someone?...
It is important to use this 'How are you?' question if and only if required, just to help people take it by its face value, and attach some sincere meaning to the response. Now, if you are asking, 'How does it matter if someone is attaching importance or not to the response?', then may I politely suggest that you take this question out of your conversation habit?. If you don't care or don't have time or don't want to get involved, its better not to ask.. That way, the prevalent conversational habits today, will have more meaning. People will be able to respond better to the much valuable question :'How are you?'.
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