I recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with someone who although she spoke English well, it was not her first language. She was visiting the United States for two months and was about a quarter of the way into her trip. English can be a difficult language in itself, but when you add all of our slang, colloquialisms and such, the difficulty of understanding the language multiplies. In this conversation though, we were discussing greetings.
“Hello”, “Hi”, “Nice to see you”, all make for a well-intended greeting, but we were focusing on the common greeting of “How are you?” It is frequently used to acknowledge others but the discussion went down the path of considering why people ask such a questions, when they don’t seem to have an interest in the answer. For example, how many times has someone that you know passed you and said, “Hi, how are you” and then kept walking? Maybe you have done it yourself. Why do we ask the question, yet not wait for the response? Take it a step further, and often if one is asked the question, “How are you”, the standard response is “Good”, maybe followed up by asking the person the same questions. Is that person really “Good” or is that just the “common appropriate” response?
So the person I was speaking with asked, “Why do people ask the question if they really don’t care to hear the answer, and why answer it with an answer that might not reflect how you really feel?” Our social etiquette has taught us that it is polite to ask how someone is feeling, and in response to give a positive reply, but we have moved away from the real purpose of the greetings. Shouldn’t we really care how someone is doing? Shouldn’t we be comfortable sharing how we really feel in our response? If we did, I believe we would create much more connection between people.
The next time you find yourself in such an exchange, take the moment to be present with the questions and response. Show the other person that you really do care how they are and see what new worlds it opens.