The “Hi! How are you?” Social Construct

Yesterday, a sweet little lady genuinely asked me how I was, seemingly out of concern. I say “genuinely” because most people ask the question simply trying to be polite, much like I do in my customer service job.


In my childhood, I actually hated this construct. I didn’t have many friends, so I mostly watched other people say hi to each other, while I questioned the need for everyone to acknowledge each other’s presence. Admittedly, this was likely also a coping mechanism for dealing with the fact that I did not fit in. It was easier to hate fitting in, than it was to long for it unsuccessfully. If you’ve ever wondered why I’m not a big hello-how-are-you person, I hope you’ve never taken it personally when I haven’t said hi. It’s just that I grew up with very little value on saying hello.


My lonely child self questioned something else a lot as well. If someone doesn’t care about a real answer, why are they asking the question? Surely, when most people politely say “Hi! How are you?”, they aren’t prepared to hear an answer like “Well I’m thinking about killing myself…” Not unless they sincerely asked it out of concern because they had a suspicion something was wrong. Because I hold honesty so high in value, I would just try to find something to say that was true, yet a little less morbid than you know, death. The classic “I’m alive” was a go-to.


Things have changed a little since then…


A genuine and sincere “How are you?” is reasonably rare, and usually comes from concern. Since I could not fully answer it yesterday, I still feel the need to complete what I started.


So, how am I? That’s always been a complicated question for me to answer fully and honestly. When I believe someone actually means it to the depth that I might, I consider that not everyone cares to write or hear an entire blog post about it. This is probably much more than that sweet lady bargained for, and I’m not sure she’ll ever see it. It’s just here for anyone who cares to read that much about how I’m doing…


On some levels, I am good, really good. On other levels, I am constantly at war, forever unsatisfied. I find myself continually deconstructing and rebuilding my own concepts and principles, attempting to build something that could only be described as some kind of unicorn principle. I tear myself apart, constantly trying to solve an impossible problem, as if there’s some magical, single, universal principle from which all other universal principles are derived and implied. It’s basically like I need that to satisfy my mind’s hunger, so it can shut up and I can be at peace with its silence.


There’s a longing to be my greatest self, which points me towards things that I don’t instinctively desire, like meditation, exercise and sobriety. I also wrestle with the fact that the journey to self-mastery seems quite lonely, and loneliness is something I’ve been battling for as long as I can remember. It leaves me perpetually facing forks in the road, where the path to my higher self is treacherous and appears as though it could tear apart my vehicle, inside and out. The other path appears smooth and pleasant on the surface. Somewhere down the smooth path, there is an opening from where you can see the higher path, and what used to be treacherous territory is now the most beautiful, scenic road you could imagine. At this point, I generally feel regret for having taken the easier path, and feel guilty for my weaknesses in face of forky decisions.


The solution is obvious to me, much like it is for many people. We know what we should do, we know the treasure lies behind the monster. Our minds dream of conquering our monsters and earning the greatest of treasures, yet our bodies quiver in fear of pain and discomfort. Our very nature is programmed to seek pleasure and/or avoid discomfort. So that’s where I am, standing in the middle of the battlefield between conscious and the unconscious, bullets and explosions all around me, and I’m yelling “Stop! Can’t we all just get along?” And that’s also exactly what my difficulty with meditation looks like in a nutshell.


So, on one hand, I am good. I really am. I have some amazing people in my life, I’m having amazing experiences with those people, and there are infinite things I could appreciate about my life. I keep moving forward, even if I’m not happy with my pace, I always get where I am going. But on the other hand, sometimes I’m not sure where I’m going. The war between my conscious and my unconscious desires goes on, more fiercely than ever.


I have remained silent for a little while about this war, but I have recently struggled to contain the fires that burn within. It’s understandable that someone expressed genuine concern, because as you can see, my mind is quite the rabbit hole. For the record, my view on the “Hi! How are you?” construct is a little more mature now, than it was at 9 years old. I don’t hate on it like I used to, because I’m not depressed so badly that I lose sight of its politeness. I do, however, recognize the difference between the polite gesture, and the sincere concern. I suppose that’s because I use them both, and that I use politeness less than the average person, and concern more than average.


It’s worth stating that I am confident that I will be just fine. I hope I appeased your concern, little one. Don’t worry about me, I just need someone to talk to from time to time, other than my own thoughts. Otherwise I find myself in places like this, talking to the whole world and nobody, all at the same time.

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