Monday, November 26, 2007

The you in how are you

Someone asked me to elaborate on how one goes about developing self. I'm loathe to do a self-help, how-to post since there are so many ways to answer this and any other question and the ways vary depending upon age and at least a dozen other variables. But I'm thinking that one possible approach to the problem is derech ha'gav.

Oh, you're sick of Hebrew/Yiddish expressions? But they're more poetic and more to the point, and you know it's true.

So derech ha'gav (Hebrew) means the way to the left . Or it can mean in an unusual way or an alternative path to get to where you want to go. Sometimes it's the long way.

How DOES one go about developing self, TherapyDoc?

Well, derech ha'gav, let's discuss (a) people asking How are you? and (b) people answering Fine.

Let's skip (a) and go directly to (b) Fine. It's quicker. Plus, this being an easy class (everyone gets an "A") we can postpone How to ask Invasive Questions and Asking Socially Appropriate Questions and Knowing What questions to Ask When, of Whom, and about What, until next semester.

(By the way, should I be giving mid-terms? I had that recurring dream last night about forgetting to attend a history class senior year, undergrad, and getting an incomplete or a failure and wondering if indeed I had graduated.)

But back to you.

FINE is not a good answer. Even though it's the popular answer, it's not a good answer.

Say you're at an event, maybe a religious reception, or a wedding, a holiday party. We just knocked off Thanksgiving and more cool holidays are coming right up! No, I can't wait either. And someone comes up to you and says, How are you?

I think that most* people automatically say, Fine.

It would be nice to hear, however, something more along the following lines, something with a few more words tagged on, words that hit on the dimensions of self. No one really wants to hear a pathetic, FINE. What we're dying for is . . .

Well, emotionally, I'm up and down, you know, all over the map, I'm feeling insane half the time.

And financially things are a wreck, we're barely making ends meet, and who
knows how Little Joey's going to go to college.

Health-wise I'm struggling, but it seems the rest of the family is in a good place, so okay, at least that's good, on the other hand, ya' never know when the other shoe is gonna' drop, do you?

Spiritually I'm totally disconnected and hate myself for not even trying, let alone caring, on the other hand, I still go through the motions, so maybe I'm not such a worm after all.

Relationship-wise there's nothing. Nothing is going on. I have no time for
my friends. Forget old friends to whom I haven't spoken in years. Maybe 20 years.

The stress at work is eating away at me. I'm just not hitting the mark. I come home and can barely talk at the end of the day. Laundry's not happening. I eat potato chips.

But my pottery class, my creativity is going well, even though I broke something that I'd been working on for three months, for sure it's a gam zu*. And even though that broke, my banana cake was a hit on Thanksgiving, and I think I've finally got the knack of wild rice.

I hit the ball too hard and now I have tennis elbow, and there's no way I can exercise, and since it was my only sport, I now get zilch recreation and since that was the only thing that made me happy I'm pretty grouchy all the time and am gaining weight, of course.

Thank G-d. By you?

Okay, so it's an old joke, but all of those things are self-defining. When someone asks, HOW ARE YOU they're saying, not demanding, but subtly suggesting, TALK ABOUT YOU.

Crazy as it sounds, we often think How are you is a direct question about our happiness. But it isn't, and our answers shouldn't be limited to some sort of declaration of emotional health. Some relationships, it's true, are founded on these intimacies. We talk about our troubles with certain people, bask in issues. Some people like to talk about their feelings.

But not everyone does, and its a diss to the human condition to think that all we are is the way we feel. Emotion is just an interpretation of our body sensations, that's all. Sure, it can be overwhelming and they feel like they take over and can. Sometimes we're conscious of nothing but our sadness, anxiety, guilt, resentment, anger, umbrage. We feel diagnosable, and we might very well be.

But you have to keep that in it's place, too, the idea that I am my disorder. I alluded to this in the post on Borderline Disorder. We're usually more ordered than not.

Managing and staying conscious of the rest of one's identity and focusing upon others is the job when in an emotionally tight spot.

And no question, for some of us, being in a social situation means being in an emotionally tight spot.

So. When you're mingling and talking to people next month at holiday parties, or even at work, tasting the cookies and fruit cakes, snacking on celery and dip, consider embellishing your answers. My guess is that you've got a lot more self than you think.

And when in doubt you can always skip to another social skill and say, Pass the guac (the cookies, the lasagne), would you please? It's really good, don't you think? What do you think is in there? I taste oregano, or is that cilantro? And there's a hint of peppermint in that chocolate chip cookie, for sure try that.

Everyone loves to talk food. Talking about what we like to eat, cook, taste, prepare, or carry out is another dimension of self, lest we forget. Like we could.

copyright 2007, therapydoc

* No, I have no research to support this contention.
* gam zu (rhymes with Tom Zoo) means this, too, and refers to this, too, is good, and deserves an entire post which no promises I really will write one day. My patients hear this from me often, gam zu, and most don't graduate therapy until they start saying it back.


Guilty Secret said...

What an interesting post. I'm always trying to work on my answers to 'how are you'!

Anonymous said...

In recovery circles, fine can mean:
F***ed Up

or, a nicer version:

Generally, one can tell if someone asking, "How are you?" truly wants to know HOW you are feeling, or if they're just greeting you, expecting a generic "fine" response. I suppose it also depends on how intimately involved the two folks are, intimate meaning closeness, as opposed to just an acquaintance.

Anonymous said...

My rebbe, Rabbi B., likes to say how the question "How are you?" is more often asking, "Did you notice my presence?"

Then again, replying with a whole long answer would sure be a shocker to anyone who is just trying to tell you they're there.

therapydoc said...

Sterb, now you and your rav are doing next semester's work, over-thinking why someone's asking the question.

But that's a good question. Or was that an answer.

Adelaide said...

Great post. I'm going to start thinking of that question in a completely different context.

Be Smart

Midwife with a Knife said...

Huh. I hadn't thought about the old "How are you?" that way before. And, really, the standard, "fine" isn't a good way of keeping a conversation going at all, so maybe it is really saying, "Please talk about you for a bit."

Familydoc said...

I try to have a repertoire of answers to "How are you?", depending on the asker. Likewise for "How're things going?" But I can never figure out a response to "What's the good word?" Tell me, TD, what do people mean by asking that?

therapydoc said...

My MOTHER uses What's the good word!

I think it means, Spare me your negativity. I'm in no mood.

But it's probably based on a yiddishism.

Anonymous said...

i think i am a bigger fan of TD's blog than fd -but that just might be because of the blog-side manner... ;P

therapydoc said...

blogside manner, love that.

Anonymous said...

Youse guys are cracking me up!

Linzi P. said...

'How's the good word' - Now I LIKE that!

But I'm with Guilty Secret - I groan inside when certain people ask 'How are you?' because most of them don't really care.

Over the years it has been interspersed with 'How's the leg?' or 'How's the house?', as both were in receipt of some major renovation. Looking at this reminds me to be careful of my own approach to others. I may convert to 'Tell me what's been going on with you'

For similar reasons - I have taken to inviting friends to my home more, to have real and proper exchanges - it's been uplifting :)

therapydoc said...

GREAT idea!

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts