How Are You? Literally Speaking

When I first learned how to do greetings in English, a textbook example often went something like this: A: How are you? B: I’m good. Thanks and you? A: I’m good, too. Thanks. Of course, there are many more ways of greetings depending on the situations but more or less they all work along the same lines of “How are you?”. In the very beginning, I was only a kid, still new to the English world and I’d always thought “How are you?” was a meaningful question. But soon I realized that no one seemed to take the question literally and most of all no one seemed to care about the answer.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that “How are you?” is the all-time most frequently used and abused cliche. There’s some everyday evidence to back it up. But I don’t want it to just end there. Where do we go from here? I truly believe “How are you?” needs a bit more attention or TLC. It’s a question not to be taken too lightly. After all, we are talking about our states of mind. It’s a question that can change someone’s day. If we mean it and we should, then it deserves a few seconds of our time and patience. It’s not hard to just stop, listen and wait for the answer before we walk away and go about our business. Of course, not all human interactions warrant a high level of attention and that’s when more causal greetings come in like “hi” “good morning/afternoon” etc.

To a further extent, a great charity organisation like R U OK? has been at the forefront of advocating a suicide prevention through life-changing conversations. With a question like Are you OK? as a starting point, it aims to re-write and re-define how we respond to this age-old question and to alleviate the stigma around not feeling OK or depression. This is a movement that gives much needed weight to this simple question and while not everyone always wants to talk about their issues, it’s nice to know that people do care to listen…

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