Posted by: scintillatingspeck | June 7, 2008

How are you?

“How are you?”

This question seems fairly simple and straightforward, doesn’t it?  I was just thinking about the usage of this question recently, and I’ve pondered this before and discussed it with others before, but I think it bears more contemplation.

I am losing a bit of patience with the use of “how are you” as a social nicety, that is, when all that is expected back is a cursory “fine” or “okay” and that’s it.  Certainly, social niceties have their place, and I am not one to suggest eliminating them entirely, but it’s the eviscerated “how are you” that gets me.

In any “how are you” scenario there are two parties, the one inquiring and the one replying.  Supposedly, the one inquiring should actually be curious about how the other person is doing, and the one replying should be glad to be cared about and honest in replying.  Right?

Except I think that a lot of the time, people ask “how are you” because they feel they’re supposed to, and people respond “fine” because it’s expedient and standard.

Would our experience of the world be significantly different if each and every time we asked “how are you,” we really, truly wanted to know the truth?  And correspondingly, how different would it be if every time we were asked “how are you,” we were honest?

I can feel the resistance and excuses arising in my own head as I write this.  Who has the time to actually talk about what’s happening in their lives and how they are feeling?  Wouldn’t it be awkward to respond honestly to virtual strangers?  Who could possibly remember to care?

Maybe this is the root of everything that’s toxic about our culture.  When we are too busy to check in with each other, or even check in with ourselves, isn’t something seriously wrong?  What is standing in the way of people being receptive to hearing each other’s stories, or being honest about their lives?

In that spirit, I want to ask, with sincerity, How are you?  Please, let me know.  At the end of this post should appear the words “0 comments” (or 1, or 2, or however many comments there are)– go ahead and click on that.  Then scroll to the bottom of the next page.  (Or, if you are not on the homepage but on the individual post’s page, all you need to do is scroll to the bottom.)  (Instructions provided for my mother, and possibly others unfamiliar with blogs and/or WordPress blogs.)  You will see a box where you can enter a comment.  (About the request for an email address–it’s not publicized, I’m the only one who sees it.)  All I ask is that in your reply to the question “How are you?”, you are truthful.  It doesn’t have to be lengthy, or short for that matter, just truthful.

Here, I’ll be truthful too.  How am I?

Right now I’m a bit weary of listening to baby Lily shrieking intermittently.  She seemed like she was going to nurse to sleep but kept rolling off my lap, and all of this on and off and on and off the breast is making me sore.  She is also fond of putting her foot in my face while nursing.  Sometimes this is cute, and sometimes I’m annoyed when she digs her toenails into my cheek.  I’m frustrated about how long it takes me to compose a blog post while mothering a 14-month-old.  At the same time, I am flabbergasted at her beauty and wonderfulness, and keep thinking about her radiant smile and boundless baby energy.  She is my sunshine.

I am also sort of continuously stressed and anxious these days.  Okay, maybe not “sort of.”  (I will speculate about the origin of the “sort of” later.)  Tom is now trying to find a new job.  We are not in immediate trouble but it’s worrisome.  I am still working two days a week but it’s hard to know what the future will bring.  What are Tom’s job prospects?  Will we find ourselves having to move?  I would be devastated to have to move.  So much of our decision to move to western Mass. and live in cohousing was specifically about NOT just living somewhere because of work, but because of a very deliberate decision to live in a particular place.

I am also in the habit of considering worst-case scenarios, as you may have noticed.  So I am also thinking a great deal about the accelerating pace of the Great Turning.  Sharon Astyk recently wrote about this acceleration here, where she muses on how her new year’s predictions are coming true more quickly than she anticipated.  I have been rather stunned at the pace myself.  Given that we are in a recession from which we may never recover, gas prices are only heading up, the housing market is going down, Israel is saying an attack on Iran is “unavoidable,” you know, all the news of the day, how can I presume to be optimistic for job prospects for Tom?  I’m also worried about my own job at a study abroad organization which depends on our students being able to afford airfare; how long will that last?  I think it was Jeffrey Brown, aka westexas on The Oil Drum, who said something like “Get thee to the non-discretionary side of the economy.”  I have been thinking about that advice a lot lately.  I’m also reading Dmitry Orlov’s excellent Reinventing Collapse and getting ideas from that. 

 Dmitry’s book, in fact, is part of what spurred me to think anew about “how are you.”  I am certain that as conditions worsen, the quality of our relationships to people in our immediate vicinity will be of utmost importance.  This is also part of the reasoning over at The Community Solution.  In this sense, engaging in dialogue with our neighbors is not only the thoughtful, kind thing to do, it is also pragmatic.  It would be useful for us to know each other, care about each other, and work through conflicts before we are thrust into a situation when we depend on each other, when there is no time left to build goodwill and trust.

Back to that phrase, “sort of.”  Why did I feel compelled to include it while discussing how I’m doing?  I think this is the ever-present tyranny of the positive, and the consequent hedging of the negative.  Americans are notorious for this; we are famous for espousing the belief, “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.”  This is a problem, my friends.  Stuffing feelings into dark, unreachable corners, last time I checked, was a recipe for explosive consequences.  We are not trained to accept our pessimism, anger, disappointment, and grief.  We are not trained to regard ourselves with compassion or others with compassion.  When we are honest both with ourselves and those around us, when we acknowledge the suffering, we are paradoxically on a path towards joy.  This is the core of the work I see before me.

And how are you?



  1. eh, to me “how are you?” opens up a space that may or may not need to be filled. i would hope that anyone who asks me that is genuinely ready to hear my honest answer, but sometimes i’m not interested in discussing it, and i’m happy to take advantage of the social convention to just say “fine, how are you?” i think there’s beauty to the fact that the question can go either way.

    so, how am i? pretty good, i’ve been getting somewhat close to enough sleep lately, and getting through a bunch of things on my to-do list. still, it seems like things pile on faster than i can do them, but i’ve been proud lately of being able to pace myself. oh well, guess who’s up for the second time tonight…

  2. I hope you will get some good sleep tonight!

    You bring up a good point about sometimes not being interested in discussing how you’re doing, and I think that’s a valid reason for saying “fine.” I’ve been thinking about that situation for myself, and have decided to say “I’m okay” instead of “I’m fine.” (Unless I’m really not okay.) I know it sounds like not much of a difference to say “okay” instead of “fine”, and for the casual listener it won’t matter a bit, but I’ve decided that “okay” is generally truer to my everyday experience than “fine.” It is only one syllable longer, and quite vague, but at least I don’t feel like I’m completely glossing over my feelings with the sunshiney word “fine.”

    The fact that I’m describing this thought process will probably strike some as ridiculous. It matters to me, though, because words have always mattered to me, even when (or especially when!) thoughts need to be expressed concisely.

  3. Hi,
    Can you tell me some more about John Michael Greer, you said he wrote about the far distant future, alot, what books? or articles? When i googled him all i could find was Order of Druid hocus pocus stuff. Is that the same Greer you wanted me to read? YIKES!


  4. Hi Danny,
    Yes, John Michael Greer is a Druid, or more precisely, an Archdruid. But that is not what he focuses on in the blog posts I’m thinking of, which are often referenced at Energy Bulletin. See his recent posts at . And he’s really not hocus pocus at all. Really.

  5. My soul seems weighed down by the loss of my romantic relationship, the demands of two children with various problems, living in a city that I really do not enjoy but being weighed down by debt that is like throwing a cup of water in an inferno.

    But, I also feel I am at a bend in the Path. I don’t know where it is going – and I am trying hard to be thrilled with that in each new moment as opposed to my usual “Can I just peek to make sure it is where I want to go?”

    I was very lucky to have some lovely and endearing company yesterday to help lift my spirits.

  6. Thanks, JH, for steering me to JMG’s blogspot blog. He DOES write very well and with a lot of insight. I am reading him now. Thanks. (His original book titles threw me off, I thought he was just a new age religion guru, but NOW i see, I see. Thanks for the links. Very good stuff…


    By the way: A poster wrote this:
    “To all non-believers in global warming: Please go tell the U.S. military that global warming doesn’t exist because the US military are engaged in ***long-range strategic planning*** on what their role will have to be in dealing with the potential effects of civil unrest around the world as a result of drought, changes in weather patterns, what/where food can be grown, demagogues who feed on social instability, etc. Try to catch up with those who are way past fantasy and are dealing with reality.”

    I answered him: “You are so right. The powers that be are already planning for the scary future ahead of us, dealing with the unrest that will come with mass migrations northward and the need for polar cities 30 generations from now, year 2500 or so. Maybe sooner. Do you have any links that verify your observation that the US military and other national militaries are already setting up focus groups on these things? If so, email me. You know how to find me.

    — Posted by Danny Bloom

  7. JH
    OOPS. this is what JMG told me when he refused to print my commnt on his blog about polar cities. That is pure censorship, no? What kind of blogger is he, with such a closed mind? He refuse to post my comments on his blog. I guess I was right about him….SIGH

    — Danny


    John Michael Greer said… [on his blog when he refused to print my comments about polar cities, a polite post too.] OH WELL, I give up! SMILE

    — Danny

    JMG said: “The inbox had yet another comment from yet another believer in mass apocalyptic dieoff, …rehashing the same arguments and making even more extreme claims than the last couple of examples of the species, with even less relevance to the issues being discussed here. It’s probably worth stating again that such posts will not be put through; that entire set of issues has been discussed repeatedly here and it’s long past time to move on. ”


  8. Kristi: I had some lovely company too. 🙂 Here’s to lovely company!

    Danny: I guess JMG is free to manage his own blog and put forth the ideas he wants. It’s okay. You have other outlets to express your thoughts. But I do understand that it doesn’t feel very good to be dismissed. Just remember you are entitled to your beliefs, as JMG is to his, and you can both have control over your own blogs, and not everyone is going to have the same policies about what comments are allowed.

  9. SIGH

    I guess JMG is free to manage his own blog and put forth the ideas he wants. It’s okay. You have other outlets to express your thoughts. But I do understand that it doesn’t feel very good to be dismissed. Just remember you are entitled to your beliefs, as JMG is to his, and you can both have control over your own blogs, and not everyone is going to have the same policies about what comments are allowed.”

    It’s not that he dismissed my ideas, that’s okay, pro and con is cool, that is why I am doing this. But to be censored, to have my comments blocked out, which were just “comments” and very politely asking him what he thought of the idea of polar cities, and for him to BLOCK my comment out and refuse to print it as moderator, well, yes, he has the right to moderate his blog, sure. It’s just surprising. Why have a comment section if you are going to censor things you do not agree with or don’t want others to see? Sure, block out obscenity and flat earth ideas and global warming denialism, if he wants, but I am on his side, and he censors me! I am shocked, shocked (I say with a smile on my face)…..

    OH WELL, it’s his blog, yes. I accept what he did. But he aint no Voltaire in my book…. hehe…..

    Thanks for steering me in his direction. I will keep reading his blog insights, they are very good.

  10. I am tired, and I wish I had more hours in my day. I love to garden. I wish it were still sunny out. I want to sleep. I want to read my book in bed. I want to eat ice cream. I feel absolutely fulfilled in some ways, and completely ripped off in other ways. I wish I was pregnant. I feel frustrated. I am happy with so much.
    So that’s how I am, for now. Ask me again tomorrow, and I might have 12 more ways that I am.

  11. Oh, and?
    Yeah. My baby died. How did I leave that one out? Because that’s actually part of every single thing I wrote before, because all of those things I feel somehow feel like the result of this happening to me, to her. Maybe not the wanting to read in bed, part, perhaps. But mostly everything else.

  12. Carol, I hear you, and I hear Charlotte coming through in all that you write. Thanks for letting me know how you are— I so appreciate your openness and your ability to see the many facets of your emotions, happiness, frustration, tiredness, fulfillment, grief, the whole of it.

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