How often have you been asked this question, and how often do you tell the truth? I pass people in the hall ways at work dozens of times a day, and we always exchange these words. The answer is usually: “Fine, how are you?” Right? For me, it is, but its pretty much a lie most of the time. Sometimes I am quite far from being fine. Why do we exchange such petty tidbits of conversation if not only do we often lie, but we also never actually care to know in the first place?
The other day, I asked someone as we passed each other in the hall, “Hey, how are you?”, and he responded, “Not good.” and kept walking. While I appreciate his honesty, and I appreciate him even more for continuing to walk instead of making me sit and listen to just why his day was not going well, I cannot help but wonder, why do we still do this?
I suppose the answer is social graces. But what are social graces anyhow? I suppose they are the monotonous things we do when we are around other people to appear polite. Is it really polite to ask someone how they are when you truly do not care, not even a little bit? Is it polite to lie?
I have a friend who works at home, as does his spouse. She has a co-worker of hers come over 5 days a week to work, and he has not yet said one word to her. Not one word, in at least six months. While this might appear odd, and by all practicality is, maybe he is on to something. If he doesn’t care to know anything about her, and she likely does not care to know anything about him (else she would likely start a conversation), then he is essentially saving them both the time and hassle of having a meaningless shallow conversation for at least 10 minutes while they both do their best to politely end it.
Ever run into an old classmate at the mall? I have, many times. Generally its someone you didn’t know all that well in the first place, and didn’t care enough to keep in touch with. If you did care about this person then you would be in touch outside of a chance encounter at the local mall. As such, you make the obligatory chit-chat. What have you been up to? Where did you go to school? Where do you work now? We should get in touch and get lunch some time! Right. Truth is, in 99% of cases, both parties don’t care, and have no intentions on having lunch, so why do we waste our time?
Politeness is generally just the opposite of what it should be. For me, you are truly being polite to me when you are being honest. I am a hypocrite however, since most people probably aren’t as jaded as I am, I generally follow through with meaningless conversation in keeping up appearances. However, if you wish to be polite to me, simply don’t lie. If you don’t want to get dinner later this year, then please, don’t ask. If you really don’t care how I am doing, please, don’t ask. If everyone abided by this logic then the few times I actually did get asked these things I would be inclined to answer honestly.
After all, does everyone who passes me in the hallway want to hear about all the nonsense going in my life, and for me to describe just why everything isn’t exactly ok? I doubt it.
I find that honesty is the best policy, generally, and I wish it was socially acceptable to be honest to everyone all the time, if I was though, I would appear to be more like a socially inept asshole then a genuinely honest person. Raw honesty, while generally a very good thing, can also get you into trouble. Situations as outlined above are some of those instances. Others include: “Do these pants make me look fat?” and “So what do you think of my new girlfriend?”.
If you were to answer questions like these honestly, all the time, you would be a very lonely person.
So since when is being honest considered rude?
If you ask my girlfriend, she would consider me brutally honest. I think that now that she is a bit used to it, she actually appreciates me for it. I am generally very outspoken and honest, outside of the workplace that is. At work, I try to blend in as much as I can and keep my cynicism at bay.
Apparently “small talk” is a skill. Being able to seem interested in what someone else is saying, smiling, nodding, the whole thing. There are actually books about it. It is a skill I apparently possess, as much as I regret using it.
I just wish everyone was more honest with each other. At first the world would get turned upside down, but I think after a while, it might just become a better placed.