We’ve all heard Joey Tribbiani’s comical interrogation of his girlfriends on the TV sitcom Friends. We laughed almost every time when he uttered it – just like Pavlov’s dog salivating when a bell rings. When he asked this question, we knew he wasn’t seeking a detailed report about some gal’s health, her relationship with other employees at the office, or her recent shopping trip. He was indirectly inquiring about her potential interest in him.
Many people ask us perfunctorily how we are, but they don’t want to hear a long list of our grievances, our ailments, or our complaints. They probably have more problems than they can handle without bearing some of ours. Troubles are things no one wants or needs. So, when we hear the question: “How are you?” we usually respond, “Fine,” and change the subject. If we do admit to some illness, the other person will try to escape a prolonged conversation about it by saying: “You’re taking something for that,” or “You’ve seen your doctor?” If you answer affirmatively, they don’t have to feel obligated any longer to help you find a remedy.
Yes, we feel fine except for a few minor, annoying ailments. Of course, I’ll feel better after I see the dentist tomorrow about a persistent toothache, and when I get the results from last week’s examination from my doctor. He told me there is nothing seriously wrong with me, but he wanted me to take a few routine tests just to confirm his analysis. What we don’t know, however, won’t hurt us, some say.
Still we would like to know much more about ourselves, hoping that the additional information will be “good news” and not a gloomy prognostication based on an erroneous diagnosis or a mistaken interpretation of some test results. Let’s not go there, O.K.? The medical profession is made up of honorable people who don’t get paid enough by our insurance companies to focus adequately all the time. To err is human, and health care providers are human despite what the AMA would like us to believe.
How we doing? Tough question to answer. Do you really have time to listen? Could you care less? Would telling you actually help me in any way? Haven’t we all learned about the rhetorical question that begs no honest answer, only agreement? Why should we believe that we have to tell others anything just because they ask? I don’t have to tell them I just robbed a bank or I’m returning from a tryst with a gal who’s not my wife. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is what our government is teaching us these days.
Who has the right to pry into my private world? Gossips can harm a friend’s reputation with the inside scoop. Can you trust them not to alter the truth, distort the facts, and embellish questionable behavior? It’s better to use the “I’m fine” retort and skip inquiring into their personal lives! Besides, would they be any more honest than I am when we chat?
Whenever I answer “I’m fine,” it usually means that I don’t feel stressed at that moment, or ill, or uncomfortable. I might even be “happy” as a consequence of some delusional experience or a self-indulgent act that buys me the satisfaction I crave or desire. Certainly, my “feelings” at the time I am interrogated will be based solely on my state of mind in that precise instant of checking them.
But, so what? How I feel can change very rapidly with the interpretation of the next event in my rather unexciting life. An event so small as a disturbing rumor from a nosy neighbor, or a promise of receiving a partial payment from someone who owes me a large overdue debt. Either can impact my mood and alter my personal “feelings.”
My original feelings will be given a lower priority once I digest the mental response by my internal data processor to the latest input. “That’s great news,” I might respond smiling, dwelling on a quick, subjective evaluation fed back throughout my body by my pleased consciousness. Now I’m smiling and getting anxious to move on, after a quick interchange of non-soul-baring pleasantries.
“Great” compared to what? That is what my sub-consciousness was considering just before I replied orally. It might have been using some subjective criteria which may be invalid, irrational, and emotional. Since I haven’t had much time to consider the long term consequences of my hasty reply, I shouldn’t be too eager to celebrate.
The law of unintended consequences looms in the future to upset my plans. An unseen accident, an unexpected death, and an unexplained reversal of fortune are not on my mind. The ultimate logic of current events will unfold gradually. Such complicated enfoldment cannot be observed until long after we have danced our clumsy way into the hazy netherworld of the future.
So, how are we actually? On a scale of 1 to 10, possibly as low as zero: out of control, out of the mainstream, out of the winners’ circle, and out of sorts. Nevertheless, most of us feel that we still have a chance, we still are important to somebody, and we still can redeem ourselves before it’s too late. Too late for what? Feeling better about ourselves? Feeling we are accomplishing our mission in life? Feeling that God will forgive us our minor sins and trespasses? But does God really care?
Should we happen to meet Him on the street one day, would He only ask about our lives to be polite? Does He have time for small talk about our troubles, our pains, our problems? Can He be cajoled into helping us? Can He release us from our self-imposed agony? Can He truly be expected to seek out and save that one little lamb that went astray out of a flock of 100? Why would He? Because the shepherd was His friend?
As long as we feel physically well and emotionally calm, we may convince ourselves that God has a peaceful place for us to dwell after we can no longer function as mortals. Lacking stress now, we think “All’s well in our world.”
I hope all is well in yours also, since you deserve the same happiness, or maybe a little bit more than I. If you happen to be slightly interested in me, I will lend you some more of my precious attention later. It isn’t worth much, but if you spend more time with me, you might come to the conclusion that my company is worth something.
Oh, pardon me, I forgot to ask you, how YOU doing?