How are you?
“How are you?” “How’s it going?” “How’re y’all doing?”
What’s your answer?
“Good thanks.” “Fine thank you.” “Great.” “Okay.”
The more time I spend paying attention to the nuances of how we converse with other people, the more I find myself questioning the role that this truly simple question actually plays in empowering - or more to the point, disempowering - our ability to be and be seen as our true selves.
Recently, someone I’m close to lost someone close to them. “How are you?” I asked. “I’m fine,” they replied. They were, of course, anything but “fine”. They were grieving, they were sad, they were upset, they were cut up. They were experiencing powerful feelings and emotions that are so important, and yet societal politeness had them believing that the “right” answer was, “I’m fine.”
One of the most powerful practices that I’ve adopted for myself in recent months has been to truly notice my emotions and just be with them. I’ve been working to accept that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” feelings and emotions, they just are. All emotions are valuable to us. Fear might feel a bit shitty, but it serves a very real purpose to potentially warn us and ready us from harm. Anger might really screw with us, but it serves to tell us that something isn’t working for us. They might be tough to sit with, but listening in on them and being with them helps us to better understand, value and respond to our circumstances and environment in a way that is true to ourselves.
Back to the question: “how are you?”
Notice that the question is “how”. How are you being? Not, what are you being? Good, great, okay and fine are all judgements, not emotions. So, what if instead we start answering the question true to our actual state of being, instead of in an attempt to make the person asking the question just feel comfortable?
In an effort to just be with my feelings more, a month ago I promised myself that whenever I’m asked this question, I will answer truthfully to how I am being and feeling. After the first couple of days of telling people “I’m really happy today, thanks for asking” or, “right now, I feel really calm and peaceful, thanks” a co-director in my consultancy company, my mentor, advisor and dear friend died rather suddenly.
“How are you, Tracy?”
The temptation sneaks back in to say “I’m fine.” But instead, I was practicing speaking what I was really feeling. “Y’know, I’m really sad today.” “This is a tough week, I’m grieving. But thanks for asking.”
Through the foggy fear of making people uncomfortable with my answers, something else became clear: the honesty of my answers were creating a clearing in my relationship with the other person:
The honest answer says “I respect you enough to tell you the truth”
The honest answer says “I trust you enough to be vulnerable with you”
The honest answer says “I value you enough to be there for me right now.”
That simple act of honesty serves both you and the other person. You create space and permission for yourself to truly be with your feelings and to be true to yourself. The other person is left with a signal of respect, trust and value from you.
But above all, you respect yourself enough to be true to who you are, and confident that even when your emotions might be feeling a bit shitty, you’re at ease with realising that they’re not “good” or “bad”. They just are. And that’s just part of being good with who you are in any situation.
So, next time someone asks “how are you?”, what will you say?