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  • Baillie Aaron

How to Avoid Getting Asked: How Are You?

It is the mosquito of all questions - the three words that I'm asked the most often, the simple but persistent: "How are you?"

My opinion on this query is requested nearly every day, sometimes multiple times. It's exhausting.

Allow me to explain.

I'm a thoughtful, considerate person. I like to treat people as individuals — that's what Dale Carnegie said, right? — so I do try and answer the question properly each time. I take time to formulate my response, focusing internally to examine: how am I in this particular moment? What is my state of being? I might meditate on it. Close my eyes for a few seconds. Do a quick body scan.

I've been saddened to find that by the time I feel comfortable sharing a sufficiently honest reply, the other person has often departed after awkwardly nodding a "Yeah, OK" in my direction. Did they even care about my feelings?

A few decently-skilled conversationalists do stick around for the reply to their own question. They always want to know: What are you doing? What is taking you so long to reply? Do you need help?

These questions mystify me.

How do I even begin explaining to my friends, classmates or the fortunate strangers who greet me in passing, the complexity of feelings, thoughts and beliefs developing inside of me right now? And what if they change from moment to moment? A state of being, after all, is transient. Quite frankly, I answer the question rather efficiently.

Now, here's where it gets even more captivating.

Two years ago, I enrolled in an evening course on Moral Philosophy and Applied Ethics, along with a modest group of individuals who voluntarily chose to subject their minds to this material for fun. Why endure another rehashed exchange of daily gripes, when you can ponder the virtues of vandalism or the ethics of euthanasia? It’s a no-brainer. I can’t wait to spice up my next dinner party with these seductive topics!

One particular class, we were discussing whether or not there is a moral obligation to tell the truth. Of course, most of us agreed that there was; and furthermore that a certain precision of language was necessary to support veracity in communication.

Well, well, well; that has not been my experience! I provocatively put forward the opinion that the bulk of society are immoral liars, responding to "How are you" with "Fine" or even a "You OK?" or a nod. How could it be possible that the majority of the world's population could be fine - and especially the people of England, where I was then living, who are not well-known for their sunny outlook on life?

It was time, I concluded, to retire the question entirely!

This opinion was, in summary, controversial. The class was divided. A heated debate ensued. From a moral lens, my logic held fast and for several weeks, the classroom small talk skipped this meaningless collection of words and jumped straight to the pure, measurable topic of the weather.

I was so inspired by my success that I wrote this article; I keep several copies of it on hand every day, to pass out to each new person that asks it of me. Problem solved!

How am I now?

Thank you for asking. I’m happy to wait while you read this piece again.

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