Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How Are You?

Probably the most often asked question is “How are you?” If we each had a nickel for each time we asked that question or were asked the question we’d all be wealthy. When you go into a Walmart or a supermarket or most fast food restaurants that’s virtually the first thing out of the checkout clerks’ or order takers’ mouths. They are trained by their managers to be friendly and make the customer feel comfortable. So, that’s the easiest way for most people to do it.

So, do they really care about your response? Right! About as much as they care about a rat’s behind. They really couldn’t care less about you or anyone else coming through the establishment. Why is that? Because they are only concerned about how they are themselves, first, and their families are (if they have one) second. That is simply human nature. You and I are no different.

Have you ever looked at the three words in the simple question? Here is an interesting exercise. If you change the emphasis on the words to a different word each time you ask the question, it changes the meaning and significance of the question ever so slightly. Here’s an example. You can say, “How are you? or “How Are you?” or “How are You?” You can even try, “How are You?” and it changes it a little more.

This question was a subtopic of a podcast episode I was listening to the end of last week. It struck a cord with me and I decided that it would make a good topic for this article.

How Do You Respond?

How do You respond? Most people say, “Okay” or “Fine” or “Good.” Sometimes we’ll even follow our curt answer with, “ And, how are you?” Somehow we know that it doesn’t matter what we say because the person who posed the question isn’t really listening and doesn’t really care. And, since we don’t really much care about them, their answer doesn’t really register with us.

Isn’t it interesting how much of our communication, especially in social intercourse such as this, is really nothing more than wasted breath and energy? We live in a world where so few people, in relation to the total population, really cares about the rest of the

There are exceptions,, of course. If you live in a small tribe, i.e. a small village, hamlet or town where everyone knows everyone else and in some way or other, they’re all connected, then people do tend to care. But, most people in larger towns, cities and huge urban complexes can’t possibly know even most of the people on the street they live on. How can they really care? And, of course, since the majority of the world’s population live in or around the major urban megalopolises, well, “who cares?”

Messing With People’s Minds

I have some friends who like to mess with people’s minds. When someone asks the “How are you?” question and knowing the questioner simply expects the usual curt, mean nothing reply, they will throw a curve ball. Some may say something like, “Does it really matter?” Or, maybe they’ll say, “Do you REALLY want to know?”

My one friend, now deceased, but a very caring person, would respond with something like, “Thank you for asking. I have severe pain from an old service injury and my COPD makes it hard to breathe most days. My youngest son was just arrested for dealing drugs and my unmarried daughter just found out she’s pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. And, finally, I received a letter from the IRS and they are auditing my last three years of tax returns. Otherwise, it’s a fine day. And, how are you today?”

Needless to say, the individual who asked the question was set back on his heels, was sorry she asked the question and however he or she might respond would be inadequate at best. He would then tell person to be careful what you ask for.

I have a personal goal to make 12 people smile everyday. That’s a challenge on some days since I might not see more than a few people and, occasionally, none in a single day. So, when I walk up to someone in a store or any other situation and he asks me, “How are you?” I may reply, “Excellent, but I’m still working at getting better.” Or, I might say something like, “I feel so good, it’s probably illegal.” Both of those usually get a double take and, of course, I’m smiling at him. Nine out of ten times I get that smile in return.

Personally, I enjoy making someone else smile. And, it’s really hard to smile without feeling at least a little better than you did an instant before. So, no matter how I’m actually feeling that day or at that instant in time, I immediately feel better.

How Are YOU?

Let’s get to the bottom line. I established in the beginning of this article that most people don’t give a rat’s behind how you are. They only care about how they are. Based on the discussion in the podcast I listened to, how you are is actually the most important issue. That’s right! It’s not only alright for you to be concerned mostly with how you are, it’s imperative.

Now, why would I say that? Think about it. If you’re down, in the dumps, having a bad hair day, a blue Monday or whatever kind of downer day it might be, how are you going to come across to other people? You’re not going to make her day any better, although she may be having a bad day herself, but yours appears worse and that might make her feel a little better. But, think about it! Do you want to spread joy, happiness, positivity and be an example why living free is the best way of life? Or, do you want to be the harbinger of gloom and doom and drag everyone down with you?

See the point? If you want to live a simple, minimal, frugal, free lifestyle, regardless of whether it’s a mobile lifestyle or a fixed lifestyle, you surely don’t want to turn people off to the greatness the lifestyle should provide. Sure, just because we choose to live free does not automatically eliminate any number of life challenges. We are not immune to the crap of the world. However, because we have chosen a simple, minimal and frugal lifestyle of living free we are most likely exposed to a lot less, and probably a whole lot less of the crap that mucks up other people’s lives. Right there is a major reason to feel uplifted everyday.

There’s one old saying that goes, “If you’re happy, notify your face!” There’s another one you may have heard that goes, “Fake it until you make it!” If you’re living the way you want to live, have a comfortable roof over your head, the kind of food you enjoy consuming, some friends who share your joy and passion for living free, maybe doing work you enjoy and you don’t have any debt to speak of, OMG, you are better off than millions, perhaps hundreds of millions and maybe even billions of people around the world? So, notify your face. 

So, how are you? Like Tony the Tiger would say in the cereal commercials, “GRRRRRRRREAT!” Okay, so maybe you haven’t perfected all of the items I mentioned in the previous paragraph. That gives you something to work toward everyday. You have goals to achieve. Life isn’t perfect for anyone. Life happens (shit also happens)! How you are is really in your control. Or, it should be, unless you’re giving that control away to someone else. If your life isn't the exact way your want it, fake it until you make it.

Everyday is and should be another opportunity and adventure. How many people can you get to smile today? How many homeless people can you give a McDonald’s breakfast burrito or value menu hamburger to? How many older, less agile people can you help cross a street or load her groceries in her car? How many children can you encourage and inspire to be more than they believe they are or can be? You can keep adding to the list.

The Cop And The Senior Citizens

I was overnighting in a Walmart in Garfield, New Jersey one night a year or two ago. Garfield is an old city across the Passaic River from my hometown of Clifton and just happens to be my late father’s hometown. It’s a town of many ethnic groups from various parts of Europe, Hispanic, Black, Middle Eastern people and a few “mixed breed, Heinz 57 varieties." At the other side of the parking lot from where I had parked for the night was a McDonalds. So, in the morning I took my constitutional walk, went into the Walmart, used the restroom facilities, bought a few provisions and then made my way to the Mickey D’s to buy a nice hot cup of tea.

A younger man came in and stood in line behind me. After I received my tea, he stepped up to the order taker, to whom English was a second language (not uncommon in Garfield with all those ethnicities), and put a ten dollar bill on the counter. He said, I don’t want anything, but pay for the next senior citizen’s order or however many that ten spot will take care of. He even told her to refund my money for my tea and take it out of the money he gave her. I waved it off, even though I’m a bono fide senior citizen.

He then walked out to his car, a really hot looking Mustang, and stood there for a while. I walked out and said to him that was a very generous gesture you just made. I asked him what his motivation was to do that. He said he did it all the time. He was a member of the local police force. He went on to say, when he knew he wasn’t going to have a very good day, he came there and did that. It helped him feel better about the rest of his day.

Further, he told me he was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and he saw misery everyday. The least he could do, because his life was so much better than so many other people’s lives, was do something that made someone else’s day better. He was making sure of “how he was.” And, yes, I most definitely thanked him for his service to our country, his community and my freedom.

So, I repeat the question, one last time, How are You? Keep working on how you are. Maybe it’ll help you, the next time someone asks the question, to say, like me, “Excellent! But, I’m still working on getting better.”


Bob said...

My late Barber when asked that question would stop what he was doing look you straight in the eye and say FANTASTIC. He was a very congenial person and I always left that barbershop in a better mood than when I went in. Haircuts were good too. Nice post!

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thanks, Bob, for your thoughts. Actually, I would categorize that barbershop (and beauty parlors, for women) as one of the small microcosms of society like a tribe or tiny village. Your barber knew most all of his regular customers and, over time, had developed a relationship with each one. And, often the customers may have cultivated a variety of relationships with each other through the security of that small "tribe." I used to have a small poster, likely lost long ago, but it said, "Don't tell me your problems, I'm not your barber." There is a lot of insight in that.

I wrote a couple posts in the past about two of the Walmart greeters who made my day. Both of them, obviously had their own life challenges, but they chose to take care of how they were individually, but focus on making my day and the day for just about every other customer who came past their greeting post. They did their job with a degree of sincerity and positivity that made each person they touched have a little better day. When they asked, "How are you?" they asked with the intent to really listen and the interest to make you feel like at least someone actually did care.

Richard Rosen said...

When someone greets me with the standard warm-up line of "How are you," I seek something meaningful to say. Perhaps, "The day has been going well, how about you?" Or "Had a poor night's sleep, so not feeling the best." And so on; varies quite a bit; depends on my inspiration.

Whatever it might be, it's not a perfunctory response. But it's always real.
A connection has been made on reality, which paves the way for a more meaningful conversation.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

I believe some people do answer the question with a meaningful answer, Richard, like you do. And, I believe some who ask the question actually do listen and care about the answers they receive. I believe this requires a person who practices empathy on a natural basis. Unfortunately, our world is so crazy busy and so complicated that most people, in my opinion, just don't have the capacity to handle much more than their own issues, challenges and problems. Would that we all had the capacity to display empathy regardless of whether the response to the question was a positive or negative one. LFBH, Ed