Archive for January, 2011

January 25, 2011

How are you?

How Are You?
my short response,

Society’s obsession with the well being of ‘the other’ can often be translated into a longing for one’s self to be acknowledged. This special inquisitive nature that comes pre-installed in our operating systems liks MS_Dos in 1995 has eluded my own. Usually (for me at least), it’s pretty darn obvious how somebody else is “doing,” per se, thus making it redundant to ask. Maybe my own empathy, borderlining psychic phenomena, is the cause of my cynical stance on formalities. Maybe it is my own obsessive avoidance of meaningless rituals and customs, which now includes rebelling against the suit ‘n tie culture I was once a staunch advocate, that compels me to elaborate on this topic.

Ahhh the redundancy of “how are you?”– it can only be matched by it’s juxtaposed meaningless “I’m fine, how are you” response… I would rather, if time permits, ask a more meaningful question, like–

“is the happiness you appear to exude all-encompassing or worn as a mask to shield your underlying dissatisfaction with life in general?”

This, I imagine, might scare away even my closest of compatriots. But at least I achieve something other than rote robotic automaton responses. My general cynicism may explain why I have very few close friends, but very close (and genuine) nonetheless.

There are three distinct types of “how are you’s” I have observed:
1)that spoken in passing as a form of small-talk generation or even deflection
2)sincere inquiry into another’s well-being
3)innate desire for oneself to be acknowledged.

Anything less of a Doctor-Patient relationship should disqualify a “how are you?” inquiry for the #2 cateogry (selfless, altruistic). When commonly used, “how are you?”, the #2 meaning is often a subconscious transmutation of meaning #3– our selfless consciously asked question masks a deeper unconscious desire to be acknowledged and understood: “how are you” is really “how am I.”

A chief reason for masking one’s selfishness: if exposed as a conscious desire, it would face unpleasant social consequences– for example a labeling of narcissistic versus having high self esteem, a line that is more often blurred than well defined. For the sake of this discussion, I will reduce the significance of #1’s occurrence (for the meaningless sake of small talk), and assume instead, that there is innate meaning and intent in all actions, words, and questions.
So to tackle the main issue: do people actually care about me? or do they care ‘more’ about themselves? Are they really asking how ‘I’ am doing…? or rather– inquiring if my sensations at the moment resonate with theirs, so that we may find common ground and build rapport?

If my answer is “yes,” that he/she who inquires actually ‘cares’ about me– then I am further inclined to ask “why,” — why do you care about me? What have I done, or what do you expect that I shall do, that is so deserving of your care?

If one were to sincerely be so care-ful and so thoughtful of my well-being and emotions, one should also be so intuitive to realize that this very question causes me undue anxiety and stress, enough to avoid asking the question in the first place. But since I do not expect my brethren to be psychic then I shall attribute them with ignorance. Day after day, the barrage of selfish self acknowledgement-seeking persists (reminiscing on my experiences in The Workplace). So at this point, my general prognosis wavers between Selfishness or Pure Ignorance. Neither of which is a very positive prognosis for mankind.

In this instance, the utterance of the question “how are you?” acknowledges that its issuer has insufficient emotional intelligence, as I am generally blunt in my emotions (or lack thereof), shows little care for my mental well being, and leads to my forgone conclusion that he who asks is only in care of his own well being.

“I was doing fine before you so rudely interrupted my life”

–may be my most common feeling, repressed into the depths of unconscious of course. For the sake of social conformity I must usually muster a more politically correct response, like “good,” or to be grammatically correct, “very well.” Notice that if I leave it at that, I am now ignoring the other person’s feelings by ‘not’ asking about them… well to be blunt, I really don’t give a rat’s ass about your well being and I hope you can appreciate my honesty.

In another instance– it is probably a widely-held belief (conscious or unconscious) that people want their feelings to be acknowledged. A non-judgmental psychotherapist would give statements such as, “I see how that experience can be so distressing for you,” to encourage rapport and elaboration. If most people want their feelings acknowledged, then it seems natural that phrases such as “how are you?” have littered their way into everyday language.

I can foresee that it would be most insulting to assume that “how are you?” results from a selfish rather than selfless impulse: It’s either this misanthropic conclusion of man’s innate narcissism– or that society has conditioned us to automatically utter this phrase that we are so inclined to use it. I’d rather not believe that we can be so mind-controlled to have the latter event (environmental cause) encompass 100% of the explanation.

Even regarding all the healer-type Mother Teresa’s out there– they must admit to an inherent state of unrest (anxiety) to know that someone else is not doing ‘well.’ “This situation must be remedied,” as the healer would say– “the person must be healed before I can rest at ease.” Thus satisfying the inherent desire to be at ease, or the Freudian concept of nirvana.

Either way– I propose doing away with the phrase “how are you?” in preference of uttering “how am I?” But since “how am I?” can be asked without the presence of another person, it would make it altogether irrelevant to even utter this question, as oneself should be able to diagnose one’s self’s well being.

So maybe the error is interpreting words verbatim.

Maybe ‘they’ are right. Maybe I just think too much.

Maybe “how are you?” really means

“I like you, I’d like to get to know you better, and in an attempt to find some common ground I will pretend to inquire as to your well being when it is actually preferred that you inquire about mine.”

In this age of linguistic subtleties and reading between the lines, I’d much rather just opt out and focus on surfing and riding motorcycles.

My final conclusion is that “how are you?” is most generally used as a form of tension release, similar to the base function of humor and laughter. Most often– we laugh, at things that are not funny. And we “lol” at things online then proceed to not even utter a sound from our mouths. Humor occurs in the head, and laughter occurs in the body, the physical. Thus “how are you?” could mean any number of things I have not yet mentioned.

“How are you?” develops because we are nervous– and in a fit of nervous rage we blurt the first thing that comes to mind, an inquiring question that begs an inquisitive response:

“I’m fine, how are you?”

Since this is the standard response–

then I am really asking you–

“how am I?”

And that wouldn’t make much sense. Though it would be much more honest.