Updated: Mar 28
I’m starting to develop an aversion to this question which isn’t really a question any more. So many people use it as an alternative to the word, hello, so that, for me, it has practically lost all meaning. I have colleagues at work who say it as they pass me in the hall or on the staircase, I have a work colleague who says it without even looking at me, I have complete strangers say it to me. Sometimes my wicked, mischievous self feels like saying, Well, I feel like s**t. I’ve got cancer and just 2 months to live. How are you?
This question really started to grate on me when I was off work for a couple of weeks recently with a virus and then post-viral fatigue. I was genuinely happy to see people so I would smile and utter a warm hello. Then, everything went downhill from there when they said their How are you? . I didn't want to ruin their mood and I knew they didn’t really want or have the time to hear the answer. If you do decide to give them an answer and it’s, Well I’ve just been told I have COVID 19, you feel like you’ve really stuffed up their day. I was feeling like crap but I truly didn’t want their mental wellbeing to be jeopardized with how I really was. I get it. But why ask the question in the first place? I know, it’s a cultural habit, right?
These three words have become so ingenuous to me, that I barely utter them myself. If I really want to know the state of someone’s health, I will say, Are you well? or How are you feeling today? which is more likely to make the listener stop and realize that I am genuinely interested in their wellbeing because I’m changing the way the question is phrased.
When I worked at a primary school in Madrid, Spain, there was another teacher from the north of England. My heart used to melt every time he greeted me because his greeting sounded so much more sincere than the How are you? of which I had come to abhor. His greeting was, You alright then? Apparently, it was the way people greeted each other from where he was from. Whenever he said those words, I wanted to tell him how I actually felt. Of course, his concerned eyes and body language supported the question he was asking me.
There’s something else about the H A Y that I’ve come to realize. That is that people actually only want to hear or have time for, Good/Well thanks. How are you? It was almost impossible for me to say that when I had the virus (I'd actually lost my voice) so most times I would just ignore the question. I mean, if you haven’t really got the time to hear the proper answer to that question, then why even ask it at all.
Now you might be thinking, Gee Jen. You’re a bit harsh. How else are we going to break the ice with someone if we don’t start somewhere? I hear you, however, these words, at least here in Australia, have lost their meaning. Every time someone asks me that question, I have to rapidly sum up in my brain how much of an answer they really want. I think I once said to someone, Do you want the 5 minute, 10 minute or 30 minute answer? I could tell by the look on their face that they wanted the 5 second answer.
I’ve heard that in other countries their common greeting may actually mean something else. For example, in China it literally translates as, Have you eaten today? which says a lot about the population's lack of sufficient food over the centuries. In the past, Chinese people did not always have enough to eat, and enquiring as to whether someone has had a meal yet is a kind way to show that you care about their wellbeing. I wonder if Chinese people actually answer this question or, like How are you? it has lost its impact.
So, if you meet me in person and I give you a warm smile and say Hello, good to see you. this is because I feel much more comfortable saying that then intruding on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state. It can be pretty daunting truly answering the question anyway, can’t it? How am I? I don’t know.
The one person who was genuinely concerned for me during my recent time convalescing with the virus was my mum. I so appreciated her text messages, emoticons and phone calls. Having someone truly care about your state of wellbeing is one of the best feelings ever. I mean, I’m just one of seven billion people on the planet and to think someone actually wanted to hear the answer to the question How are you? really impacted on me and made me feel incredibly fortunate and loved. Thanks heaps mum.
So friends, the take on this for me is, if you are going to ask this question then at least provide the space for the answer – whatever it sounds like. Let people know that you care about their answer. If you use those three words, try to maintain eye contact with the person you are addressing and please, don’t use it as you walk pass someone. A warm hello and a genuine smile, at least in my humble opinion, is a much better alternative. What do you reckon? Would love to hear your take on this …. really.
Stay safe. Take care.