Three empty words: How are you?

It goes without saying that politeness is something we all should be, let alone something we should strive to have in our everyday lives. Many people view politeness in physical actions: holding the door open for the person behind you, waiting for more people to get in the elevator before pushing the floor button, allowing someone to cut in front of you in the Cafe, the list goes on and on. I can think of one way, however, that our generation is lacking in politeness: our questions and answers are lacking intention.

Picture this: you’re walking to the ACC to grab a bite to eat in the Pub before your next class. As you walk up the side of Loras Boulevard, you spot someone you know walking towards you. This may not be your best friend, but he or she may be someone you hang out with at the organization you’re involved in or the job you work at and have had a few classes with. As you get  closer to each other, you smile a little in preparation to talk to them. But one thing stops you from having that conversation: you’re hungry, and you need to get some food. You have somewhere else to be. So you walk by the person you know, say, “Hey! How’s it going?” and keep walking towards the ACC, not stopping to hear so much as a reply. Human interaction of the day: accomplished. Or is it?

Our generation today has this type of greeting down to a science. If we ask someone how they are, we’re showing concern for them and being a generally good human being. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our culture has caused us to believe that there is no expectation for an extended conversation to occur outside of those three words. More often than not, those three words are said out of the sake for saying something instead of coming across as rude by saying nothing. But if “How are you?” is thrown around without intention behind it, we’re just as bad as if we choose to say nothing.

As someone who studies words and language, I’ve learned that if you study another language, you understand so much more about not only how their culture is formed, but also how they interact with each other. Countries from around the world spend time with their loved ones and friends every single day because it brings them joy. And what do we do? Yes, we socialize, but how many of those conversations are actually meaningful? How many times are those conversations behind a screen? When you think about it, it’s scary how much our daily conversations lack intention.

I’m not asking for you to stop every time and say ‘hello’ to someone on the street. In reality, you’d be there for hours. But the best thing you can do, for yourself and those around you, is commit to saying more, and saying more with purpose. So, fill your words with meaning.

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