When I first studied English as a 12-year-old school boy, I fell in love with the language straight away. Even to this day, the richness and the versatility of the language continue to fascinate me. The scope of what words can do really goes beyond imagination.
There’re many types of greetings in English, a typical textbook example often goes something like this:
Person A: How are you?
Person B: I’m good. Thanks, and you?
Person A: I’m good, too. Thanks.
Well, that’s pretty much the end of a conversation.
Of course, many real life conversations don’t always follow this pattern. They flow differently 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 trying to figure out the massive grammar rules and all that. Relatively new to the English-speaking world (or the West as you may call it), I’d always thought “How are you?” was a meaningful question. But very soon I realized that no one seemed to take the question literally or seriously. Most of us were happy to take it and leave it – we gave a quick answer, then we moved on.
It’s not an overstatement to say that “How are you?” is the all-time most frequently used and abused cliché. 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 personal attention or TLC. It’s a question not to be taken too lightly. After all, we are talking about our states of mind, aren’t we?
To delve into the world of “How are you?”, it’s a greeting that has power to change someone’s day, for better. If we mean it like we should, then it deserves a few more seconds of our time. A little bit patience goes a long way. It’s not hard to just stop, listen and wait for the answer before we end a conversation 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/evening” etc. It’s simple, friendly, carefree, apt and to the point.
To a further extent, a great Australian 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 help alleviate the stigma around not feeling OK or depression. This is a movement that gives much needed weight to this simple question.
While not everyone always wants to talk about their issues, it’s nice to know that people do care to listen… So, How are you?