I understand that when we greet each other with “How are you?” no one really wants to hear the answer. Unless it’s a serious sit-down meal between two old friends who haven’t talked for a while. And even then, just as you’re talking about the devastation of your messy divorce, you’re liable to be interrupted by your friend taking the phone call from their kid asking where the Cheerios is.
Let’s face it: We Baby-Boomers are probably the most self-involved, narcissistic, obsessed-with-our-feelings generation to ever come along. And I was part of the movement. My father was emotionally repressed, part of the male grin-and-bear-it, buck-up-and-take-it, never-talk-about-your-feelings-but-just-go-to-the-bar-and-drink-down-your-sorrows model (though he never did the latter). So I was only too happy to grow up on the cusp of the feminist movement and become a sensitive male. The ethos was that it was cool for men to be gentle and share their feelings and read and write poetry and cry and such. I did all of these things and still do.
I also got into Zen meditation and the daily practice of monitoring my spiritual temperature. So conversations (after the 7-day silent retreat) often centered around how much in-the-moment you are or how you were flooded with spiritual light or how your relationship with the Divine was going. The New Age spiritual-practice-du-jour continued the measurement of your biorhythms, the amazing good feelings your cleansing diet evoked, the remarkable breakthroughs in your therapy when you forgave or wholly rejected your parents and all the other babble that put you in the center of the universe and allowed you to pretend that everyone cared so deeply how you were progressing. And then came Facebook.
Don’t get me wrong. I suspect that all of it was necessary and important and perhaps helped move us up the human evolutionary scale. But then again, maybe not. As James Hillman said in his book title: “We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Therapy and the World Is Getting Worse.” Because if all that work—physical, dietetic, therapeutic, spiritual, artistic—becomes or stays wholly personal and self-involved, it falls short.
Right now, for example, I don’t feel like answering when people ask “how are you?”, as in “I had a great bike ride and eat oatmeal every morning and I feel great.” Who gives a rat’s ass? And what kind of achievement is that in the face of what’s going down right now (and forever) in this country? I think a much more interesting question, a much more useful conversation-starter is “How are we?” What have we done as a people lately that merits praise?
So next time someone asks me “how are you?” I might answer, “I don’t know but let’s talk about how we are. What happened today that we as a culture, as a community, as a nation, did that might move the dial toward further health and happiness, joy and justice? Who spoke up bravely? Who kept hiding the truth in a fantasy world of alternative facts? Who sat by and said nothing? And if we asked these questions daily, our personal state-of-being might finally join hands with our collective well-being and things would start to get interesting.
So I ask you, dear Reader. How are we today?