It’s been a few weeks since I encouraged you Gusties to find your intentional flailing, your activity that shakes up your bones and awakens your soul. Friends, it is now time to do the same with words!
Picture this: it’s midnight and you exit the library doors. The cold air makes your eyes water, beginning the formation of what will most likely be a giant eye-booger that you’ll discover in the mirror as you brush your teeth. An acquaintance happens to be walking up the ramp, right where you’re headed. “Hey! How are you?” they ask as you walk by.
Now quick! What do you say?
I’ll bet my left foot that it is one of the following: “Good,” “Busy,” or “Tired.”
Am I right or am I right? But why is this?! How can I be so confident in your answer that I would risk my left foot, my favorite of my two feet?
It’s because time and time again I am given one of these three answers when I ask this question to those I see on campus. It can be any time of day, any day of the week. It always ends up being the same. And don’t get me wrong, I, too, have fallen into this habitual repetition. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s speaking something.
The sad part is, there is most likely truth in this response. You or I may very well be good, busy or tired. It is the automation of this response, a sort of quick conversational reflex that gets me wondering: why do we always, among the thousands of words within our minds reach, grasp solely those three? Are “good,” “busy” or “tired” the only way we can define our lives at that moment?
Surely not! Let me, kind Reader, take a look at what these words mean.
“Good.” This is an empty word. It is like a dry sponge. It relies solely on its outer shell that we can somehow recognize as being something, but its contents are lost. It is begging for more, to be filled, saturated, expanded, but falls flat. It lacks depth and character. You are saying nothing when you say you are “good.”
“Busy.” This is a cliché word. It is like a flowery doormat. It likes to think it has something going for itself, something better. It exists in this word and has a purpose, but when used too often it becomes just like any other. It is complex but without substance. When, really, are we ever not busy? When we’re sleeping? We need to realize that life itself is busy, and it’s in managing this truth that we are able to not be overwhelmed. Let’s get over ourselves. We are saying nothing when we say we are “busy.”
“Tired.” This is a lazy word. It is like an old dog. It knows nothing else but to slumber. It is something to say when we’ve got nothing else to say. It is the easy way out. But again, we are saying nothing when we say we are “tired.”
I think we all, myself included, need to acknowledge this verbal lethargy, this accepted and unquestioned routine of how we communicate how we feel. We need to take each prompt as an opportunity to honestly express ourselves. We need to wake up our vocal chords, just like our bodies, and get out of the habit of simple responses. We need to take time and truly connect.
Which brings me to another annoying habit, one that I know I am not the first to discover, and one that I know many are thinking but don’t have the balls to say: Don’t say “Hey, how are you?” to me if you aren’t going to take the time to listen. Any way I respond you make me feel like I am somehow wasting your time, as if you have somehow completed your friendly duty by simply asking and are not required to care about my answer. If you don’t have time, I will happily reciprocate a warm smile and a “hello.”
I rarely ask people “how they are” any more, not because I don’t care, but rather because there are so many better questions to ask. Has anything exciting happened today? Are you looking forward to anything? The answers to these questions I am honestly interested in hearing. I’ll even let you all in on my favorite method of avoiding the automatic “How-are-you-Good-How-are-you-Good” exchange: if and when someone asks how you are doing, respond with “Hello! I’m (creative adjective or description here)” and follow quickly with a compliment. Like, “Hello! I’m feeling quite relaxed after my Tai Chi class, and that coat is adorable!” By offering a compliment, you are showing the person you are 1) noticing their existence and 2) showing you care about their existence. Just a little something to mix things up!
Gusties, from now on let’s use some creativity! Let’s ban the three potty words of casual conversation: “good,” “busy” and “tired.” Instead, let’s get excited about things. Let’s be nervous about things. Let’s be upset about things. Most of all, let’s say what we mean!