“How are you?”
This is one of the questions I certainly wish to avoid if I could. I see it as either an attempt for small talk (therefore, shallow and pointless pretty much like talking about the weather) or an attempt to fish gossip or misery out of one’s life (hence, absolutely unnecessary and unproductive). In most cases, I think this observation runs true; but, I am not discounting the fact that some may ask it with sincerity, compassion and concern towards another human. Nevertheless, how-are-you is more of social question than anything else to me.
Now I was reading an essay entitled “GOOD COMPANY”, written by Adi Da Samraj on 14 April 1987, wherein he made a passing remark about this social norm. He said that during his parents’ generation, in the early 20th century, when people are asked “How are you?” the normal response would be “I’m fine. How are you?” Of course, like me, you would think that such kind of reply is plain and simple BS. People who said they are fine or great are not in the very least fine or great. But this is the standard answer expected by society thus, we uphold it.
Well, according to Adi Da, that standard reply has wisdom in it. We are supposed to show that even if we are suffering, in pain or poverty, we should “exhibit the signs of being able to handle it, of not needing charity, of not needing a shoulder to cry on”. We have to present courage in the face of challenge because that is how matured adults are supposed to behave. We have to show a brave face because whatever difficulty we have must be acknowledged, but not dramatized to the point of burdening other people.
Certainly, I came from a generation where telling exactly what is on your mind is considered bravery and assertiveness. You are applauded if you can tell the world of your own weakness or flaw. And if we are lacking in friends in the physical world, then there is the alternative virtual community who can console us by clicking that thumbs-up or emojis. In essence, we use this advance in technology to serve our egoity.
I always heard that there is wisdom in the old. I agree that certain traditions need to be challenged and discarded especially the ones that either limit a person or are downright dogmatic. Still, there are those that should be carried on for their practicality and sense. And yes, the how-are-you-i-am-fine-thank-you is one of them.
The latter generations indeed have taken too much liberty…expecting too much privilege…as if the world owes us for being here. So we must be consoled and complimented at all times for every little thing we do…for every little achievement we acquired. We want praise. We want recognition. And for every difficulty, we want to stretch it further by dramatizing…so the world will sympathize with us, understand us, and makes us feel better.
Do not get me wrong. It is alright to share our troubles with few people who can truly understand us. Nonetheless, it is important that when telling our tales we stick to the facts without adding the unnecessary spices. Unloading problems to another burdens that person…eats up his/her energy. And while we may feel good after our “sharing” we ended up “poisoning” the other.
Let me just expound this argument. When someone insulted us, we felt hurt. Our normal reaction is to talk about it with another person – oftentimes, we talk with all the expected emotions of a person whose ego was bruised. By this simple act, we colored the opinion of the other person towards that one who insulted us thereby making him/her also angry or offended…inheriting whatever feeling or thought we exhibited towards the subject. When he/she next see our object of resentment, he/she will have a preconceived notion and prejudice regarding that other as “adversary”…and will tend to tiptoe in his/her own dealing with that person. See?
Gossiping, which is the worst form of sharing, does the same harm. And oftentimes, when we examine the root cause of such unproductive act, the only motive we can find is either envy or hurt, maybe both. At times, boredom also could be conducive to idle talks. Shams of Tabriz said: “Do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark. The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish; but are perpetually stored in infinite space and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all.”
Let us act like matured adults – compassionate and courageous. Compassionate that we are able to forgive or forget the insults or slights or whatever injustice we receive. Courageous that we are able to handle our own difficulties without complaining about it. Let us understand that life is sacrifice. We must learn to face it and embrace it. Handle only the problem that needs attention right now. The rest that could wait for tomorrow must wait for the morrow. And for the love of God, stop dramatizing. We are all in the same boat…playing the same game of life on different levels.
So…hello, how are you? I am great. And you?