There's always been heated debate over what is the most dishonest expression in the English language. A lot of people opt for "the cheque is in the mail" and others favour "I'll respect you in the morning". Of course there's a third, less polite, phrase that's not for this public medium that no woman will believe after she's heard it once.
But to my mind they all pale next to these three words: "How are you?" They're usually delivered in a chipper tone of voice by the questioner with a heavy perky upswing on the "you" and a complete lack of sincerity. Anywhere you go, from The Gap to an emergency room triage, someone is asking you some variation of "How are you?" with equal amounts of concern.
It can even be made patronising with the simple addition of a pronoun. Why anyone has to ask about your state of health by referring to you as "we" is beyond me. The next person that asks me "How are we doing today"? will probably find out what I'd like them to be feeling, never mind how I'm holding up.
I wonder if it ever had any meaning; did the ancient civilizations have their version of this platitude? Did Neanderthal man have to put up with some perky idiot at the watering hole chirping a cheerful "How are you?" as he waited to see if any game was going to show up?
Is that what pushed Moses over the edge finally? He showed up at the Pharaoh's palace one day to be greeted with a cheerful "How's it going, Moses?" only to finally lose it? He then proceeded to tell Pharaoh in no uncertain terms how he and his people were doing. When he was finally done itemizing his list of grievances he went back among his people and told them to get packing.
Maybe if they had waited for the bread to leaven and rise he might have regained his temper and calmed down enough to rethink his position. But everyone just made matzoh and they were ready to roll. Hey I can't blame the guy for getting pissed, I'd have indulged in some pretty heavy pharaoh bashing if I had been in his shoes.
I think it's time to call for a moratorium on using the expression "how are you" or any of its variants, until such time that it regains meaning. The trouble is, of course, figuring out a way of ridding our conversation of the beast. Well, after much consideration and some trial runs, I believe that I may have found an answer to at least limit, if not eliminate, the scourge.
Answer with the truth. The next time someone, anyone or anywhere, asks the dreaded question, don't just answer with "fine" — give them what they asked for. Don't worry about the glazed expression that will soon appear on their faces; it's just their natural reaction to something beyond their control and to anything approximating a genuine conversation.
Of course this will not be a simple or quick process; who knows how many times it will take to overcome one automaton's programming, let alone the thousands, if not millions, who use the phrase around the world on daily basis? But with a concentrated effort we can make a difference. By each of us taking responsibility for our own neighbourhoods and cleansing them, we can make a difference. Think of it as the ultimate in thinking globally and acting locally.
With careful dedication and application we shall have people cringing with embarrassment in no time as we tell them with all honesty and sincerity how we are doing at that moment in time. Sooner or later they won't want to risk hearing about someone's hemorrhoids or bowel problems and they will stop asking "How are you?" unless they truly mean it.
The world will be a much better place for it.