I’ve never been one much for superficiality. Those social niceties and exchanges that are well-intended but only serve to maintain a false pleasant front. In my world, such polished manners create disconnection, not connection. They make and maintain a pretend world where I feel alone in the mess of real life. A “don’t-really-ask-me and I’m-not-really-gonna-tell-you” policy.
My bullshit detector goes into overdrive. I hear myself screaming – on the inside, of course – can someone please talk about what is really going on? How they truly feel about the ugly reality spilt all over the living room floor? Are there any human beings in the room or just robots dressed in their Sunday best? Am I the only one here that is not happy, happy, happy?
One of the most common of such exchanges is the “how are you?” Often, it is asked automatically in haste or as someone is racing past you at high speed. Do you really want to know how I am? Do I really tell you how I am or do I oblige the game and give the pat “I’m fine” response? (What does “fine” mean anyway? That I am surviving? Just making it? One step from jumping off a bridge? Or that I am just vanilla ice cream today? A plain scoop, naked of the splashy rainbow sprinkles?
If we dare color outside the lines and respond with some inkling of honesty, then we often get the other pat response – “I’m sorry.” Or, the face that says – “I just asked to be polite. I didn’t really want you to answer because I DON’T CARE.” Then, why the fuck did you ask? Oh, yes … your mama taught you to be mannerly.
If I am about anything in my life and in my life’s work, it is authenticity. Figure out who you are and be clean and clear about it in your relationships and in the world-at-large. So, I say, to hell with manners. Shoot for relational connection. Although civility is an important value, intimacy grows in the world of feelings and feelings lie beneath manners.
Rather than “thank you,” tell someone that you love and appreciate him or her. Then sit back and watch the connection sky rocket.
If you want to know how someone is, ask them. And then slow down to make the space to receive them – in whatever human state he or she is in at the moment.
If someone asks you how you are, do a quick assessment to see if he or she really wants to know. Then depending on their interest, choose with intention to either play the game or give an honest answer that respects your heart and the relationship.
But, for God’s sake, be conscious about your interactions, rather than yet another human machine that spits out pleasantries that you been trained to say.
Maybe you don’t have time to hear how someone else is. That is perfectly okay. But then, don’t ask. Make a statement instead, such as – “I am really happy to see you.” Or, “I love to see your smile every time I come into Starbucks.” Such an act stops the well-indoctrinated social theater and offers a bite-sized version of genuine human engagement. I’ll take that any day over some scripted gesture that is empty at best and dismissive at worst.
So, really, how are you? I got time and space. And “fine” is not an option.