BY MILES LAMENSKY
Most people do not actually care how you are. No matter how many times they pose the question, it is but a hollow sentiment, a cruel caricature of a question ordained to trick you into thinking they care. They do not.
He who would have you believe that he cares, cares only that you believe that he cares. Any actual sympathy accompanying this mission for positive reception arises only as a vague afterthought. He is far more concerned with how he is being perceived than about your word-dribbling litany. But he soldiers on with a glistening grin, hoping you’ll respect the time limit of proper social interactions. He offers a perfect handshake, a perfect smile, perfect laughter. The perfect conversation.
The emptiness wrought by such structured chats is elusive. To many, a couple minutes of cheap recognition seems worthy of wading through banally premeditated content. As long as everything is happy all the time, all is well.
Kindness has become so glorified we have begun to nonchalantly neglect our most basic human qualities. We have surrendered a couple true relationships for 100 false ones. For 100 stiff-necked head nods feigning interest, 100 mechanical chuckles at something not funny, 100 weather reports by armchair meteorologists and 100 reminders that it is indeed Monday.
The reigning mentality severs the social world from the at-home world. The at-home world is reserved for personal feelings. If you have a problem, store it away in your nightstand with other private things. Everyone has problems; don’t go muddying up our clean airwaves with the supposed uniqueness of your own.
On the other hand, social world conversation is helpfully scripted to avoid sadness, hurt feelings and political incorrectness. Without such scripts, racists would say racist things, misogynists would say misogynistic things and atheists would say atheist things. I.e. people might say what they actually think.
And opinions belong in the at-home world along with melancholy, nudity and religious beliefs. The social world is reserved for hackneyed conversations about the Packers.
This feels wrong to me. The compartmentalizing of opinions and beliefs is dehumanizing. With everyone’s problems locked away and unknown to us we become susceptible to further embellishing our own. Because no one could possibly understand the struggle of me. That information is private.
We fear the Freudian slips that might breach the framework of a healthy, clean, kind America. We fear disagreement because we have such superficial understandings of our own beliefs and argumentation may well illuminate our ignorance. And so we would rather jabber about nothing at all through a few kind lies than some sub-puddle depth of intimacy.
Speaking one’s mind when posed with an arbitrary question is against the rules. We all know the calculated responses and to respond otherwise is just shy of brash. But maybe true human concern is not for the faint of heart. Maybe we shouldn’t ask someone how they are if we don’t actually care. Maybe at that point we should remain silent and be on our way. Because real caring takes time, and everyone is already running late.
Real conversation is nestled just below the weather. The guts of good conversation stem from caring and prods for more details. Ask some stranger an intimately caring question, and watch them recoil. This reaction is indicative of a confused system. We have become so inculcated with the mundane a single sentence of sincerity shocks us into submission.
Next time you ask someone how they are doing, first take a moment to decide if you actually care. If you find that you don’t care, then take a moment to actually care. The at-home/social world distinction is a farce. Our lives are single, indivisible gestalts, not a la carte lunch menus. A truly kind environment is one marked by sincerity, and sincerity is more than a phony smile. Keep your phony smiles, and let us know when something interests you more than a busy schedule.