Fine, Thank You

"Como esta usted?"
"Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?"

Those were the first sentences we learned in Spanish 1, back in the ninth grade with Miss Bateman. We practiced them over and over and over. If you don't speak Spanish, they are, of course, "How are you?" and "Very well, thanks. And you?"

The other day, my friend/coworker Shannon shared a link to an insightful and timely article. The gist of it is that "How are you?" -- ordinarily little more than a pleasantry -- has become problematic. The author says, " To ask 'How are you?' is either to make the conversation very gloomy, very fast or to force someone to lie straight to your face and say they’re fine."

I've had a few of those very fast conversations. One friend doesn't even ask how I am; rather, she says, "You seem fine" based on what she's read in my blog and Facebook posts. "You seem fine," I think, is a way to appear concerned oh-so-briefly before moving on to how she is and pretty much closes the door to any kind of authentic response on my part.

The woman most influential in my becoming a hospital chaplain gave me a real gift in providing an alternative opening. She suggested that -- for the most part -- not to ask a patient, "How are you?" Rather, she proposed, "How's it going?" "How's it going?" is more open-ended and gives the person an opportunity to respond at either a practical level ("pretty well," "I'm getting better," etc.) or a feeling level ("I'm scared," "I want to go home," "Not so good.")

"How are you?" will continue to have its place in society. And that's okay. Right now, though, if we really want to know, we need to ask some different questions: "How are you coping with the solitude?" "Are you doing okay?" "How are you filling the time?" "Is it all getting to you?" are all good. So is "How's it going?"

During a particularly stressful time in seminary,
Dayle showed up wearing a tee-shirt with this image.

I bet she wishes she still had it to wear today!


Janet O. said…
I love your insights--and I want that shirt.
Barbara Anne said…
So true!

We're managing pretty well, all things considered. Thanks for asking!

If you've not seen the Covid-19 parody songs on you-tube, you're in fro a treat. There are wonderfully creative people out there sharing their wit and talents. Last night I stayed up two hours late just laughing and slept really well thereafter.

Quiltdivajulie said…
We learned to use the "how are things with you today" many years ago when younger son entered therapy - you are right about the open ended nature of that phrase and the way it encourages honesty more than the superficial "how are you" that is actually meaningless. GREAT post once again. Thank you.