So often it happens that we ask a friend how they are and we get the clichéd response,
“I am fine.”
It has become so clichéd that it is now commonly understood that people say they are fine out of formality rather than from their reality. There are other variants to it as well like, “I am great.” ,”I am good.” And so on. How do we avoid the boring ‘I am fine’ and get an actual response from people?
It has become a reflex to say the F-phrase to people when they ask you how you are, a reflex that is similar to replying “Same to you.” when someone greets you.
The problems with this phrase are rooted in the question that precedes it.
“How are you?”
Earlier people used to ask this out of actual concern and curiosity. It wasn’t a question that was supposed to be asked or answered anytime at the whim of the people. Slowly, it ended up becoming a follow up question for the first greetings that people exchange. It was seen that if everything wasn’t good, people weren’t interested in the answer. The roots of the whole “I am fine” phrase are found in a question that was used and abused so often that it ended up losing its meaning. We can chide people as much as we want for being dishonest when they communicate but a large part of the blame lies on us, the people, as well.
We ask questions we don’t want answers to. We say things we don’t mean and we do stuff that we don’t want to face the consequences of. If we want people to be genuine and honest while talking to us, we need to be the same for them as well.
A question you can ask people instead of the cliché of how are you is asking them,
“Are you happy?”
I have tried this and it sometimes throws people off. People expect me to ask how they are but when I ask them if they are happy, they need a few moments to wrap their head around it. It is natural of them as well. Humans are used to routines. We like doing things by a schedule and avoid as many changes to that schedule as possible. We thus descend into a state of apathy which we sometimes need to be shaken out of and that is exactly what this question does.
Next time you meet someone and want to know about how they are, ask them this question. If you don’t want to know, well then simply don’t ask. It is a waste of time to seek information you don’t want. Instead, I would suggest getting to the point of the conversation and then working from there. Somehow it has become a norm and even an expectation for people to ask each other how they are. If someone doesn’t ask this, they are considered rude and cold. It was a long time in my life before I understood that. Now that I do understand it, I don’t really get the point of it.
Humans do many things out of ritual rather than concern and this is one ritual that we need to modify as soon as possible.