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LJ Idol Topic 1: Empty Gestures

Hi, how are you?

No, really. How are you?

Don't say, "Fine." Don't say, "Good." Don't deflect the question back at me before you've even really thought about what it meant.

I know better.

I know that you've had the ups and downs in your day that I have. I can guess from your stained shirt that lunch didn't go as planned, and I can guess from your crying baby that you probably didn't get much rest last night. I can infer that the exhaustion in your eyes isn't anywhere near as insincere as your smile, hastily plastered on your face.

Reflecting on my encounters with strangers, wherever they may have occurred, the only phrase that jumps out at me is, "Hi. How are you?" And, without fail, my mind is quick with the accepted response. "I'm good, how are you?"

But sometimes I'm not good. Sometimes you're asking me how I am when I'm sick as a dog, struggling to ambulate. Sometimes you're asking me right after the passing of a loved one, when I'm shopping for funeral attire. Sometimes you're asking me after an argument with my husband that's left me wondering how our future's going to be. Sometimes I just feel bad.

Knowing myself, though, I will always say the same thing: "I'm good." And you probably will, too.

This message brought to you by me, but prompted by therealljidol.

Comments

( {69} — Respond )
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(Deleted comment)
brand0new0day
Oct. 16th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
Probably hoping you wouldn't spew chunks on her! It was nice of her to add the wish for better health. :)
(no subject) - jenandbronze - Oct. 16th, 2009 11:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
banyangirl1832
Oct. 16th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
I love this. It's so true and it's so sad.
brand0new0day
Oct. 16th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Isn't it, though? It's my least favorite bit of societal conditioning.
scapegoat
Oct. 16th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
Despite the fact that I mean it and want a real answer when I ask how someone is, I still feed people with the generic response as well. It's disappointing. :(
brand0new0day
Oct. 16th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
I usually mean it when I initiate asking, but if someone asks me first I just spit it out like I've been trained to do it or something.
(Deleted comment)
brand0new0day
Oct. 16th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly. I don't even know how many times I was asked "How are you" during the worst parts of my life. Imagine how the innocent and not really interested asker would have felt if I'd said what I actually felt? "I feel like shit because I just had a miscarriage last week," or, "Terrible - my favorite grandparent is dying a slow, suffering death."

I'm not even sure the question is polite, given how rarely the asker actually cares. But, *shrugs* maybe I'm just a little bit bitter after spending most of my adult working life in customer service.
(no subject) - drippedonpaper - Oct. 21st, 2009 02:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jenandbronze - Oct. 16th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
tamaraland
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
One thing I really like about being married to a Finn is that they don't ask how you are if they don't actually want to know. Of course you better not ask anyone yourself unless you're ready for the response either.
brand0new0day
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
That does sound like an advantage! From what I've noticed, though, in my family nobody asks how you are in quite the same way a stranger does. Asking how you are in my family pretty much signifies that something is wrong and they want to know about it.
baxaphobia
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
So true. But do people (other than real friends) want to hear "life sucks today." hahaha.
brand0new0day
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
Probably not! Which is why we reply with "Good" instead of the truth. ;)
(no subject) - teaberryblue - Oct. 16th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - baxaphobia - Oct. 16th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
teaberryblue
Oct. 16th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
I think it is good to ask people how they are. But yeah, someetimes I answer that I'm fine and then a second later will be like, whoa, wait, no, I HAS TEH PLAGUEEEEE. But I don't know if it's because it's the accepted answer or because 90% of days are good days and I get so used to telling people how good I am that that's what I say! I think it is more likely that than that I'm afraid they won't accept me being bad.
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:49 am (UTC)
For me it's a complete snap reaction. I just say, "I'm good. How are you?" even if I don't mean to. Most of my days are good days but I notice that on my truly, truly bad days I'll still pretend to be good for the sake of a making a 30-second encounter easier.
kandigurl
Oct. 16th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
First off, your lj layout is GORGEOUS. Secondly, win for all the Dr. Horrible references. And now, onto your actual entry. :)

Usually, if I'm not having the best day and someone asks, I say, "Oh, I'm making it through." Which is true but not really burdening them with my problems, so I figure it's a good compromise. I've struggled with the insincerity of this exchange myself!
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
Thanks! My two favorite things: prettiness and Dr. Horrible. :D

As a rule, I hate lying, so it kind of sticks in my craw to have to lie to strangers on a somewhat regular basis. Maybe I should try being honest and LOL at the shocked responses I get!
jenandbronze
Oct. 16th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
Yah if I am not feeling hot, I lie to people I don't know... whazzu with that?

Great ending... yep, I think we all will continue to "lie" when asked how we are!
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)
Thanks. :) I don't think it's a big lie, in the same way that some sins aren't big sins, but it's still there and it's still an empty gesture (I think).
alephz
Oct. 17th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
It's a horrible thing to lie.

But for the survival of ourselves and those around us... sometimes it's all we can do.
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 01:07 am (UTC)
That's a somewhat sad way to look at it, but you're right. I try to avoid it when I can but like you said, sometimes it's necessary. Thanks for reading. :)
gildedage
Oct. 17th, 2009 05:29 am (UTC)
I think about this a lot, because our next door neighbors once had a Russian exchange student, who, while he was happy and made friends, was mystified by the "How are you?" He couldn't understand that it was a casual greeting, not an indepth question.

Sometimes, I think we meet so many people every day, that a "how are you" is just a temperature and weather check for the other person, so you know how to respond.
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
It's a mean question! It makes you feel like they actually care, and then poof! All you get to say is, "I'm okay" before they nod and walk off.
hug_machine
Oct. 17th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC)
So so so true!

Well, except *I* mostly am in various good moods when you see me. XD

But yeth, we all do from time to time. This one is fantastic, and is making me all thinky.
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
It makes me sad that casual encounters are so . . . casual, especially when there's such a serious question involved. Asking someone how they are is really a pretty big can of worms!

I'm glad I made you think. :D
mstrobel
Oct. 17th, 2009 10:36 am (UTC)
I always do. No matter how crap: "fine, thanks." Actually, "fine thanks" usually means anything from "crap" to "meh" because usually I'm "super" or "wonderful"!
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
That's just what's societally polite. That doesn't make it okay, but, *shrug*. I don't see it changing any time soon. Thanks for reading! :D
onda_bianca
Oct. 17th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
No, I'm not "good"...but I'm working on it. I tell you I'm good so that I can start to believe it myself.

By the way, I really liked this entry.

Edited at 2009-10-17 05:13 pm (UTC)
brand0new0day
Oct. 17th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, sometimes saying it is enough to make you start believing it, and that's always a good thing.

Thanks! :D
beloved_tree
Oct. 17th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
I really like this entry -- it's well-written, structured to get right to the point, and you choose details that make it really easy to relate to what you're saying. I've seen several people comment on the "How are you" social convention, but I think you've done the best job of it. :) Nicely done.
brand0new0day
Oct. 18th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! That's high praise, I appreciate it.
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