How are you?

Typically when someone asks me this question I give the standard response: good. I feel that most people don’t really want to know the truth – most people don’t care to hear some long-winded story about the flurry of emotions I might be feeling at any given time. Nor do they necessarily want to know what’s going on in my life. Instead, they want to hear that “good” and move on with their day. Is this a pessimistic view of humanity? Perhaps. But perhaps it’s realistic as well. Aren’t most of our desires in life self-focused? Are we not operating under a survival instinct? An instinct which includes being social and forming bonds as a mechanism towards survival? And if we can agree on that, then maybe it follows that we only ask “how are you?” because being social is ultimately fueled by our selfish need to survive. And perhaps most small talk can be chalked up to this. But I feel that a question such as this should not be asked unless we truly want to know the truth, and unless, if necessary, we want to offer our advice or our understanding and empathy towards the person we’re asking. Despite being innately selfish, I think humans have the ability to be empathetic. To truly care, through their ability to relate to pain and suffering, about the pain and suffering of others. We want to help. That’s why some people have spent their entire lives trying to help others. I have no position on whether or not this is selfishly or altruistically fueled. But I think that our empathetic spirit needs to be incorporated into this question every single time we ask it. Because the person we’re asking might not really be so good. You can probably hear it in their tone when they reply, or see it in their eyes if you just look a little bit closer. There’s no shame in not feeling good either. We’re complex beings who can feel everything and nothing at once; who can feel bored and numb while simultaneously being overwhelmed by every emotion under the sun. Those very emotions and our ability to relate to one another is, I think, what makes us human.

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