“I’m Fine” = Code for …

Sometimes you just need to lay down, close your eyes, and hug your dog.
Sometimes you just need to lay down, close your eyes, and hug your dog.

“Hey Denise! How are you today?” 

“I’m fine! How about yourself?” I cheerfully chirped in reply.

Exchanged in 15 seconds as we crossed paths and headed in opposite directions…

It is considered common courtesy to exchange greetings or acknowledge another – even in passing. What has become habitual to say really isn’t very good English if you think about it. It isn’t very specific, is it? Not, “How are you feeling today?“, “How has your DAY been so far?“, “How many people have you slugged today?” Instead, “How are you?” What does that actually MEAN?

Don’t get me wrong. I think we should be courteous to one another. In my opinion, it is a way to show respect and regard for other human beings. Before you feel defensive, please know that I do this too! It is a habit and habits can be hard to break. I will tell you, however, that I AM trying to change this “good habit”. I want to ask “How are you today?” only if I have the time to stop and HEAR how you really are doing today. The expected response is almost rhetorical. “I’m fine.” I was involved in a small group discussion this week about this topic. One friend said that “… people don’t even stop to really hear your response. I don’t get from them that they CARE“.

The fact of the matter is, “I’m fine” could be code for a number of things. Worse, it may just be an out-and-out lie. Oh sure, folks aren’t TRYING to be deceptive. The response rolls off our tongues automatically. “I’m fine” might be code for:

“I’m terrific! I feel great, look great, and believe that – heck… I’M GREAT!”

“I’m just so-so. Thanks for making me think about it and respond though.”

“I’m broken.”

“HELP ME”.

My Mouth Says “Fine”, My Expression Says HELP

This weekend I was on Howard Community College’s campus for the MDCAP (Maryland Consortium for Adjunct Faculty Professional Development) conference. During one of our breaks, I took Chloe outside to “do her business” and to sit in the sun for a few minutes. The “quad” at HCC sits in the center of a number of buildings, with a beautiful brick walking path that breaks up the area with various green spaces throughout. I found an unoccupied bench and sat for a few minutes just enjoying the sunshine and autumn breeze. Across the quad, a young woman sat with a stroller and a kiddo. An open book was on her lap and she did her best to keep an eye on the toddler while obviously trying to read or study at the same time. On a bench about 20 feet away sat another young woman. She hunched over her phone and the tension just seemed to roll off of her.

The child looked to be about 3-years-old. The kiddo skipped over towards the young woman and watched silently for a minute. The little one said, “Hi! How are you?“. The young woman looked up briefly and said, “Hi! I’m fine“. She went back to texting furiously.

The little girl continued to stand there and stare and broke the silence by finally saying, “You don’t look fine. You want my rocks? They are really pretty!” She dug in her pocket and pulled out what I guessed to be rocks (I’m brilliant that way). She sat them down on the bench and stepped back as if to let the young woman know they were all hers now. And weren’t they the prettiest thing?

The young woman got a little choked up and said, “Thank you! I’ll keep them forever and ever!” The little girl shyly scuffed her shoes on the sidewalk and then very “spur of the moment” reached over and hugged the young woman. The mother called the child back over – for she’d finally noticed her little one was hugging total strangers. I watched as the young woman took a photo of the rocks with her phone and then carefully put them in her backpack.

You see? This little girl looked pass the words. She KNEW this young woman was not FINE. She stuck around long enough to care. She intervened. She shared. She hugged.

A Challenge

It’s great to be polite and it is expected of intelligent, caring people who understand proper niceties and etiquette. I’d like to ask you to change one thing, however. Let’s stop asking “How are you?” Instead, make a comment about the day if you only have time to greet and walk on. Something like “Hello! Pretty day, isn’t it?” Better? “Good morning!” “Hello! Nice to see you today!“.

On my lunch hour today I received a text from a good friend. “How are you doing? Really.

I knew I could take the time to really say how I was doing – and that she cared. Take the time to do more than greet when you can. Look for the code words. Share your rocks. Hug someone.

In the end you “broke the code” and unlocked the “secret”. Compassion.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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