How are you?

‘How are you?’ This a question we encounter frequently. What is the best way to respond to it?

The dictionary acknowledges that it is an enquiry after your health, but adds that it is no more than an informal greeting, one that should not be taken literally. The appropriate reply is, ‘I am fine’ and only the uninformed would launch into a litany of the troubles he or she is facing.

In the hurly burly of everyday living, this is a practice that comes across as sensible, but unfortunately there exists a downside to this notion. It encourages the need to maintain a stiff upper lip, of putting on a facade of cheer. It lays down the unspoken rule of keeping one’s true feelings in check even at the cost of pretence. It tells us that we must
fight our personal battles in quiet secrecy because sadness is a sign of weakness.

However, in an imperfect world there is no one who leads a trouble-free life. At some point or another every one of us is in need of encouragement, sympathy or solace. ‘Fine’ is not fine all the time and holding on rigidly to this notion can prove to be a great burden.

‘No man is an island, entire of itself’ wrote the poet John Donne, pointing to the truth that life is a great deal about connectedness. An individual’s identity and sense of purpose is tied up with his relationship with others. How lonely and lost we would be if we did not have others around us to encourage and support us during good times as well as bad times!

This does not mean that we have to spend a major part of our time reaching out to and consoling others. All that is needed are ‘small acts of kindness’.

Dale Carnegie, who has many a lesson on how to win friends and influence people, has described how a single sentence can brighten a person’s dull day.

He once noticed a registry clerk who looked thoroughly bored with his job of weighing envelopes and handing out stamps, eternally engaged in the same monotonous grind.

Determined to make a difference, he decided to tell him something that conveyed honest admiration. He found what he was looking for. As he was weighing his envelope, Carnegie remarked, ‘ I certainly wish I had your head of hair.’ At once the clerk looked up, his face full of smiles. He was immensely pleased and Carnegie left feeling confident that it had lifted him out of his depression.

Small acts of kindness and simple words of appreciation – what a world of difference they can make to everyday living! Life is a great deal about connection and some concernfor others. As Shakespeare put it, ‘ How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’

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