In the history of the English language, a set of three specific words opens the door for deeper human interaction more than any other combination. If you supposed those words were “I love you,” you are only 2/3 wrong, so don’t feel too badly. No, I’m thinking of the question “How are you?”
“How are you?” This question can be asked genuinely, feelingly, softly, loudly, ironically, or even threateningly. Sadly, these poor little words are most often uttered flippantly, with an air or disinterest or worse, dismissal. The potentially monumental question of how a person is faring on their rocky journey through life has become as reactionary as sneezing upon entering a dusty room.
This is not always the case, of course. Many people still ask this question with real interest and concern for their fellow human beings. These are the caring people whose existence makes the world a much more endurable place than it might be otherwise. They ask the question and you just know that they mean it. Such people are rare, however, and few really know how to put meaning behind these three little words.
In context, the phrase and its response most often occur in the following sequence:
Person 1: “How are you?”
Person 2: “Good.”
Person 1: “Good.”
And that’s it. Whether or not Person 2 actually feels “good” is irrelevant. This is perhaps one of the small number of “socially acceptable” lies we use every day. How often, really, are we doing “good” compared to all the times we’re feeling stressed, anxious, nonplussed, sad, angry, excited, blissful, tired, sleepy, or on top of the world? And yet “good” is not only the most common response, but the most expected—even though it’s most likely not the exact truth.
I wonder, then, if it’s possible to start a trend of giving unexpected answers to this overused and typical question? Could an atypical answer restore meaning to this diluted but potentially meaningful phrase?
Why not answer with a color?
Person 1: “How are you?”
Person 2: “Feeling purple, thanks for asking.”
Person 2: “Orange, absolutely orange.”
Person 2: “A bit cerulean, actually. You?”
Person 1 would then do a mental double-take. “Did he really say what I think he said?” he would think to himself.
Person 1: “Did you just say you were feeling purple?”
Person 2: “Yes, I did.”
Person 1: “Well, what does that mean?”
Ah, yes. What does it mean? By replacing the noncommittal word “good” with a color, the asker is suddenly forced to think about how their friend really feels. “How are you” takes on a whole new meaning, and two people have connected in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise had they been allowed to breeze by each other with the typical exchange.
Not only that, but running into people in the highways and byways of life could be a lot more fun. And colorful.