Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu · 3 minuta. vrijeme za čitanje · ~100 ·

Lada 🏡 blog
A Question That Has Long Lost Its Meaning

A Question That Has Long Lost Its Meaning

The Conversation Statue - Calgary
The Conversation Statue - Calgary

I don't like being asked how I am, even by the people who know me well. The question annoys me because it is just a polite expression asked for the sake of order. People simply say, “How are you?” and continue walking or doing whatever they were doing before. They don’t wait for an answer.

Long ago, I believed that when people ask, they want to know and care to listen to how you are, and you will tell, for better or worse, the truth. But people don’t really want to know. Those who genuinely do want and care are “rarae aves” – rare birds, and they are my best friends.

I know that for an Englishman or American, “How are you?” isn’t a question but a form of ‘hello’ in passing. It’s just a ritual of asking for the quick lie – “I’m fine.” You are expected not to be honest, even if you are feeling sick, and the person asking is not prepared to listen to anything more than a clichéd response. It is an unwritten rule.

I’ve recently heard the story of a physician who conducted a small experiment at a large hospital where he worked on how much people listen and pay attention to what the other person is saying. As a respected physician whom many in the hospital knew, he walked through the hallways where passersby greeted him and asked, “How are you?”

He kept answering: “Great, I just killed my aunt!” 

People continued on their way as if he had said nothing. No one even looked back. The thirtieth person who asked the question stopped and said, “Sorry I didn’t hear you well.” Then again, no one reacted until the sixtieth passerby looked at him in astonishment, for he was the first who stopped and listened to the answer.

This experiment says all about our ability to listen and show respect by listening to others. “How are you?” is one of the emptiest phrases we say daily. Those are just polite words with no real meaning.

We live in an alienated society. We have been meeting our neighbours for years, but we don’t know who they are or their names. We ride with them in the elevators face to face but stare at the floor and don’t say a word, even a seemingly unimportant question, “How are you?”

When asked, people mostly reply, “I’m fine,” even if they’re dying. One of my colleagues often answers, “I can’t complain,” although he is far from being well. A friend said to me that he always answers, “couldn’t be better,” because friends will be glad, and ‘enemies’ will burst with envy. Another friend has a different strategy. He never responds that he is OK or good. He believes it’s better for people to feel sorry for you rather than envy you. When I’m not in the mood, I sometimes answer, “Do you have an easier question?”

None of us tells the truth, even the short version, because people don’t care to listen.

Call me naive, but perhaps honestly asking “how are you?” could be one of the ways to deal with alienation. People living in the countryside still care about how others are. They stop and ask and are really interested in it! Social norms are different. People greet anyone who comes across by saying, “Good day, how are you?” Even if they pass a stranger, they will stop and ask. While we were travelling through the Dalmatian hinterland, it seemed perfectly natural to us to engage in conversations with local villagers who stopped and greeted us.

That kind of interaction is almost impossible in big cities. While I was writing this article, I also did a little experiment. As I passed them, I greeted several strangers on the street (although with a certain amount of discomfort). All I got was a suspicious glare and no reply. Only one person returned my greetings but asked if I might have mistaken him for someone else. It was one of those moments when you asked yourself, "What kind of world do we live in?”

It just occurred to me that even those who stick to the unwritten rule and usually answer, “fine, thanks” or “good,” break it when their doctor asks them how they are. Then they are expected to be completely honest.

Social rules are not permanent, and sometimes you have to change them. Let’s stop asking, “How are you?” unless we are prepared to listen.


Originally published on BIZCATALYST 360°.


Javier Cámara-Rica 🐝🇪🇸

prije 8 mjeseci #35

It's important to take the time to genuinely care about and listen to others, especially those we interact with regularly. Your experiment and observations show how much we have become accustomed to ignoring the people around us and how we rarely take the time to engage with strangers.

It's interesting to note that in certain communities, like those in the countryside, people still value asking how others are doing and are genuinely interested in the response. Perhaps we can learn from them and work towards building more meaningful connections in our communities.

As you mentioned, social norms are not permanent, and we can work to change them. Let's start by making an effort to listen and engage with others when we ask how they are doing. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it's a small step towards creating a more connected and caring society.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 10 mjeseci #34

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 10 mjeseci #33

Paul Walters

prije 1 godinu #32

spot on as always. Thank you 

Debasish Majumder

prije 1 godinu #31

cogent and candid explanation @Lada 🏡 Prkic ! enjoyed your lovely buzz. Thank you for the buzz.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #29

Life is full of superficial conversations and superficial greetings , to me they don't bother me , or when you go up in the elevator for example you talk about the weather if it's raining or hot , the question how are you ... same thing , something they have to tell you ... I prefer that to those who say nothing and pass in front of you as if you were invisible 😹😹... relevant conversations are had with family or real friends 

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #26

Pascal Derrien

prije 1 godinu #25

I agree people dont really want you to stop them in their track and really answer the question how are you by the way :-)

Fay Vietmeier

prije 1 godinu #24

#25 @Lada 🏡 Prkic 

How precious is wisdom Lada 💛😇💛💛

And time is a factor .. we live in an increasingly busy world 

I have found children to be a well-spring of honesty when asking “how are you?” 

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #23

Fay Vietmeier

prije 1 godinu #22

💛💛@Lada 🏡 Prkic 

This is a nail hitting the head post 

“Rare” indeed are those genuine people who actually care to know your reality. 

We likely know who those people are - that we can be truthful with. Though on occasion someone will surprise us. 

One must possess wisdom and weigh how much truth or reality to share .. and with whom. 

Your post confirms that too often .. people are living in externals .. their hearts are in many ways disconnected with those around them (even under the same roof .. even “friends” or family) .. they are not able to look within or see beyond themselves 

In truth, there are many complexities .. every human being is weighed down by their own unique challenges .. and each person handles those challenges to the degree they are able .. at times sharing with others as they are able.

Blessed are those who are connected to genuine, caring people. (by their fruit you will know them) 💛

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #21

Neil Smith

prije 1 godinu #20

Conversation at the side of a hurling pitch earlier this year.

- ‘How ye doin?’

‘Grand. Yourself?’

-‘Ah fine. Finished the chemo.’

‘Oh right. Any joy?’

-‘Nah. Still there and looks like that was my last shot.’

‘Bugger! Are you still on for fishing at the weekend?’

What was interesting to me wasn't the words that were being spoken but how the meaning of the words was so much greater than a mere transcript can present. What these two fathers were saying to each other was so much more than the words that were used.

As you wrote, much conversation is verbal filler and lubricant. Sometimes though, the filler has greater meaning.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #19

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #18

Ken Boddie

prije 1 godinu #17

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #16

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #15

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #14

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #13

Franci 🐝Eugenia Hoffman

prije 1 godinu #12

I consider it a greeting and trying to be polite, not necessarily sincere. Excellent post, Lada.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #11

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #10

Greg Rolfe

prije 1 godinu #9

@Lada 🏡 Prkic, as you have determined and have very nicely written, questions are important. But the question you are discussing is actually not a question it is a social lubricant.  Ken's answer is very accurate in that polite society needs phrases that permit us to interact in a gracious way.  Over the years some phrases and in this case a question has moved from being a phrase or question to a proforma social lubricant.  Designed and used to permit a person to interact with multiple people in a professional and expedient manner. I expect that is why when you were in a smaller town or location the question returned to being a question and not simply lubrication to permit the smooth interaction of individuals.  Society survives on people being able to interact in a consistent and predictable manner. This would explain the confusion and hostility you encountered.  Your friends should care how you are, and I expect will stop and answer the question.  I hope you have a truly amazing day!!!

Greg Rolfe

prije 1 godinu #8

John Rylance

prije 1 godinu #7

Lada 🏡 Prkic

prije 1 godinu #6

John Rylance

prije 1 godinu #5

Ken Boddie

prije 1 godinu #4

I must admit, Lada, that your dreaded “How are you?” question doesn't bother me one bit.  I learned at an early age that this is a greeting only and that the last thing people really want to know is how I am, or indeed anybody else actually is.  On my early morning walks this greeting phrase is virtually interchangeable with "good morning", “g'day”, “Hi” or “Hello.”  I wouldn't get much exercise done if I stopped to talk at length about the state of health of every passer by. The Americans have their “Have a nice day!” as a form of departure remark, and perhaps an acknowledgement that the conversation or transaction is over.  It's certainly much better than “Get out and close the door after you!” Furthermore, nobody in polite society would ever wish a nasty day on someone, and so, such meaningless quips, along with other passing remarks such as “How's it going?” or “See you later” become mere pleasantries and, through overuse, no longer have any literal meaning.  If I really want to know the state of a person's health I'll be more specific, such as “Hows that gangrenous big toe of yours coming along these days?”  😂  Wouldn't life be complicated if we actually took everything literally?

Paul Walters

prije 1 godinu #3

Bravo Lada …Brilliant piece 

Jerry Fletcher

prije 1 godinu #2

Lada, The questions asked, as you so well noted, are not asked in expectation of listening and responding. Personally, i believe this can be attributed to the rise of the digital age and the consequence of the years of avoidance due to Covid. And so it goes.

John Rylance

prije 1 godinu #1

This is comment/ observation is by Jennae Ceclia.

Surround yourself with people who don't ask how you are doing.

Surround yourself with people who make the effort to make sure they are part of the reason you are doing so well.


I wonder if the answer to the question How are you? Is Dont ask. Those who then ask Why? Genuinely what  to to know how you are. The others just ignore your response and have no real interest in your well being and carry on talking.

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