How often do we say “I’m fine” when someone asks how we are? How often do we hear others respond this way? And are we really “fine”, or is just something we all say?
When I was a teenager, I discovered the hard way that people don’t always want to know how we are. It’s a question that generally requires a 2 or 3-word answer. I had kidney stones when I was 16, and an acquaintance told me that she didn’t really want to know any of the details. I think that “not fine” would have been the answer she was looking for, if I wasn’t able to say “fine”. (We are much better friends these days than we were then, I’m pleased to report!)
Do we want to know?
So, when we greet people, do we actually want to know how they are? Or is it just an expression that we have got used to using?
I’d say there are four people in my life that know when I am not fine. They won’t let me get away with that answer. As a minister, I feel my role is to listen to others, not to burden them with how I am feeling. One lady that I visited would not accept that at all. I didn’t know her before I started spending time with her, but she always got out of me what I was troubled with. It worried me that I couldn’t keep my professional mask on, but I think it helped her to feel that she was supporting me back.
Another of the people is blind. She can tell from my tone of voice if I am not “fine”, even if I try to disguise it. “Stop the car”, she has said in the past. Again, she won’t let me lie to her.
The other two are more my age (one of them wouldn’t be impressed to hear that – sorry S), and I don’t see them often, but they both “know”. And they want to know. They want to hear, share, comfort, discuss, without criticism or judgement. The mask does not disguise me for them.
Hiding behind a mask
I think that the element of wearing a mask is an important one to think about. Are we the sort of people that others have to wear a mask for? Naturally, we cannot spend an hour talking to everyone we meet. But we can show care and compassion if others are not having a good time.
And sharing that not all is rosy in our own lives can help others. If we feel that everyone we meet is “fine” and we are “not fine”, then is there something wrong with us? I’m not suggesting that we all wear our hearts on our sleeves and share intimate details of our lives with all and sundry, but being prepared to admit that we are also finding life hard at times can help others see that they are not alone.
My challenge to you: if you ask someone how they are, don’t be satisfied with “fine”. Ask an open-ended follow-up question to be sure. You could try “How is life treating you at the moment?” or something similar.
Or, if you don’t actually want to know how the person is, rather than asking, “How are you?”, try, “It’s good to see you,” or something similar. This way we are not encouraging people to lie about what is going on for them.
I’d love to hear how you get on. Or if you are not fine, or know people who are not fine, have a look at this link: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/get-involved/im-fine
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