The ‘how are you?’ – conundrum.
Updated February 19, 2021
“How are you today? (Wait… did I just say that? Now’s a bad time to chat. Neither of us are interested in having a conversation) See you later.”
Does this narrative sound familiar?
What I meant to say was, “hello”
Today the question “how are you?” has a variety of different meanings. In some situations it might actually mean what it sounds like. For example, a friend or family member asks, how are you? They have a genuine interest in how you’re doing and want to engage in a conversation to deepen a sense of connection and meaning if your relationship.
In other situations, this question is a reflexive habit that many of us are conditioned to utter as a pleasantry. We might have absolutely no interest to engage a person in conversation nor do we really care how they’re doing. I would argue there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong here, what matters is the intention behind the question or the honesty with which one asks. If you can say, or at least admit to yourself that you do not want to engage someone in conversation, then at least you’re acting with some transparency and integrity.
What happened to saying “hello?” Asking “how are you?” should imply you will look a co-worker, friend or acquaintance in the eyes and listen to them. If you don’t care how they’re doing, or don’t have the time to listen, don’t say “how are you?” say hello.
If you don’t care how the person you’re greeting is doing, you should.
For one, as humans, our wellbeing is not only individual, it is also collective.
Two, learning to care for others is a fundamental human trait which seems to be absent from our day-to-day lives.
Three, improving our individual relationships is core to resolving the challenges we face as a global community.
I think it is clear that many people have increasingly become attached to a virtual reality of social media which heavily skews their perception of day-to-day interactions with others. Furthermore, the manipulation these platforms have over our thoughts and interpretations of external events is warping our ability to see things clearly and make sense of an increasingly complex world.
Over the next week, bring awareness to how often you ask someone “how are you?” Bring attention to your thoughts and feelings at the time. Figure out if you’re interested or open to a response. When the time is right ask someone how they’re doing sincerely. Listen and be there for them, enjoy experiencing this fundamental human interaction. As you get more comfortable in these moments, your ability to be present and compassionate will blossom and you’ll empower others to engage in authentic communication that goes beyond the surface level hashtags and mask wearing that many people identify with.
When we show each other compassion, sincerity and honesty, amazing things happen. These are essential to our mental health and wellbeing. Practice conscious and sincere communication in your life and we’ll enjoy the benefits together.