Wednesday, December 14, 2016

“How Are You Doing?” and “Fine.”

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.” Romans 16:16

“Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet.” Burl Ives, “A Holly, Jolly Christmas”

The next set of worn out words and feeble phrases I want to take on is the combination of greetings: “How are you doing?” and “Fine.”  I was all prepared to skewer these salutations, but then I realized that I use them quite a bit—actually I use them a lot.
                Now don’t get me wrong.  What follows should not be understood as a defense of “How are you doing?” and “Fine.”  I’m not going to offer any excuses for my own overuse of the terms.  Neither am I going to lambast anyone else with whom I find good company in this category.  What I want to do is at least make myself and others aware of what we are saying.  Hopefully, I might actually get back on course to do my part in more meaningful conversations.  Who knows?  I might also be able to drag some others along with me.
                Many times during the day, I ask “How are you doing?”  On most of those occasions, I use that question as a greeting.  When I encounter someone who greets me the same way, I usually respond, “I’m fine. Ha’yoo?” (I’ve really heard me pronounce it that way.)
                Somewhere along the way, “How are you doing?” became a greeting.  “Fine” became a traditional response of saying “Hey!” back.  Remember My Fair Lady?  Eliza Doolittle was taught to curtsey and say, “How dooo you do?” as a refined way of greeting someone.  Maybe we’re not in such reprehensible company after all?  If we’re lucky we’ll be mistaken for Hungarians.
                 I do hope “How are you doing?” and “Fine.” remain in our language as more than just greetings.  As a greeting and response, though, I guess they are OK.  Let’s not lament that we have lost a good turn of phrase to the department of salutations.   They have become greetings, and let’s settle on that fact.  When we used them that way, that’s all they are.  “Hi, how are you?” is simply the exercise of good manners.  We at least speak to each other.  Keep it up.  Make eye contact, smile, offer some cordial greeting, and don’t get all huffy if you don’t get anything back!
                One thing I want to lament is that we are losing the art of greeting each other.  Instead of following the simple etiquette of exchanging greetings, we can pass each other on the sidewalk or in the hallway and never turn our attention away from our smart phone screens. 
I got all huffy.
                As a greeting and response, they have their potential.  There is the possibility that we want to inquire about another’s well being.  There is also the secret hope that one responding really is “fine”—doing fine, feeling fine, fine as wine, etc.
                “Hello” didn’t become a standard greeting until after the invention of the telephone.  AG Bell instructed folks to say, “Ahoy.” Thomas Edison insisted on “hello”.  The earliest telephone books had instructions on using the telephone and favored “hello” as a standard greeting.  Instead of “goodbye”, however, the instructions told the caller to say, “That is all.”  I guess that is a little more genteel than “over and out”.
                Take a look at this article. 

                Greetings and their responses have been around for as long as people have communicated with each other.  Shakespeare employed a number of different greetings in his plays.  His characters have said hello with “good dawning”, “good day”, “good time of day”, “good even” and so forth.  We have been pretty much doomed since at least the late Elizabethan era.  Hamlet dug up a skull and wondered if it might have been a courtier who could have said, “How dost thou, sweet lord?” (Hamlet Prince of Denmark, V, i, 78).
                The apostle Paul is well-known for “grace and peace” as both a greeting and salutation (1 Cor 1:3 and other similar references).  A lot of pastors now use the phrase to conclude their church newsletter articles.
God called Moses by name, and Moses responded, “Here I am.”
Jesus was most often greeted by name or title or the combination of both (Jesus, Son of David for example).
“Hello” was once part of an extended phrase used to get someone’s attention.  We might be closest to understanding its original intent when were watching Back to the Future.  “Hello… McFly… “
“Goodbye” evolved a contraction of “God be with you”.  “Adios” has the same pedigree.
Once upon a time, greetings and farewells were blessings.  Consider “Hail, Mary, full of grace.  The Lord is with you.”   What if we were able to actually greet each other like that again?  We still try to greet and depart with blessings on a corporate level.  We greet the congregation in a worship service. If we are fortunate, maybe we also pass the peace, greeting each other with a blessing, “The peace of Christ be with you.”  At least weekly, if you attend a service that often, we hear a benediction before we leave the sanctuary.
                We often really do mean it kindly when we ask, “How are you?”  To ask with the kindest heart when time is short, though, will probably only get us another “fine” in return. 
I had an aunt who used to cock her head to the side when she greeted me.  She would sigh and ask me, “Chip, [sigh] how are you doing?”  She really wanted to know!  She would wait me out until I told her everything or at least until I came up with something more creative than “Fine.”
If you have the time and you really want to know, go ahead and ask.  I think you could make it sound like less of a greeting and more like a question posed by someone who cares.  Figure out how to communicate to someone else that you really want to hear an honest answer.  That might be more of the product of relationship than of body language or vocal inflection. 

“How are you doing?” might just open the door to more conversation.  If it does, be ready to hear an honest answer.  You just might encounter someone who is not “fine”.  From there, can you listen and receive what someone might tell you? 

No comments: