We ask that question so often, don’t we? How are you?
And then we quickly turn away when anyone dares to answer with more than, “hmmm, I am fine, and you?”
It is a standing joke in a way – we ask a question because, well, we have been told it is the right thing to do, and then we don’t care about the answer, because in so perverse way, that is the right thing to do.
Politeness dictates we ask. Rudeness overcomes convention and we are free of any liability to be interested in the response. Yet no one would dare do away with this, would they? What if you stood in a room and didn’t ask a single person how they are? Would anyone notice? Oddly enough, it is a social experiment everyone is too terrified to try. I am guessing the consequences are so grave the last person who tried it did not live long enough to report back the results
Of course, the wonderful world we live in dictates we should be interested in the answer. We should also be free enough with our feelings to display them to anyone or everyone, whether they as or not. So the proper response to How Are You? should be a long tale of woe beginning with the alarm clock and ending somewhere around the moment the question was posed. A few tears to show you are not an ogre would be appropriate. The questioner must be suitably grave in his or her demeanour, must not attempt to interrupt the speaker with well-meaning platitudes but as soon as the discourse is ended, should be appropriately shocked, horrified or depending on the content, overly ecstatic.
Because that isn’t fake is it?
Is it worse to pretend to care or care to pretend?
Perhaps there is no answer to this question. Doing away with How are you is not the answer but modifying it to mean something is not the answer either. There is nothing complex in the question, it does not require a psychologically draining answer. Sometimes things are just as they are, no one asks the Germans why they eat bretzels with white sausages either. We all know there is nothing wrong with bread. Though the English might care to explain the point of mushy peas with anything. I believe they owe us that much.
Maybe we need to give a little more thought to how we treat each other in general. If you don’t want an answer, then don’t ask the question – but there is ultimately nothing wrong with How are you?, it is the smouldering remains of a society where formality was polite. We know there is nothing wrong with answering with “Fine, thanks, and yourself?” – we don’t want to hear about the carbuncle on your bottom. Unfortunately, we have lost ourselves in so many questions about what is right and wrong and what is appropriate and what isn’t, asking and replying to questions is fraught with danger of every kind. Now you have to ask yourself how can you ask how are you? In fact, if you ask that, which sensibility could you be offending? Yet if you say nothing at all you are guaranteed to be deemed offensive.
We can try to move on through this minefield and discuss until the bovines are back but it doesn’t bring anything, does it? How are you? I am fine, how are you? And then we move on and buy milk or conquer the world.