Two choices

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It happens every day—usually more than once. Someone asks, “How are you?” You have two choices: one, you can say “fine,” or—you can tell the truth. Unless of course, you really do feel fine, in which case you get a two-fer. But if “fine” is stretching the truth a bit, do you really want to get into it?

It happens every day—usually more than once. Someone asks, “How are you?” You have two choices: one, you can say “fine,” or—you can tell the truth. Unless of course, you really do feel fine, in which case you get a two-fer. But if “fine” is stretching the truth a bit, do you really want to get into it?

More to the point, do you want to get into it with this particular person who just asked how you’re doing? Does he care that you’re feeling miserable? Does she care that you can hardly keep from jumping up and down because you just won a seven-day cruise for two to the Caribbean?

If it’s your best friend asking and you both have plenty of time on your hands and nothing better to do, the truth is a good choice. Not so good if you’re rushing past each other on your way to somewhere important. If you’re going to tell the truth, you need a couple of hours.

Saying “I’m fine” saves a lot of time and hassle, which is why we usually do it, I guess. Sort of a given in social discourse. If you’re feeling miserable you can’t just say that, “I’m miserable” and expect to walk away without being bombarded with a million questions. “How come?” “What’s wrong?” “Can I help?”

And if you’re on top of the world about that cruise you just won, do you have time to tell the whole story? How you won it, the dates of the cruise, what cruise ship, who’s going with you, whether you’ve ever been to the Caribbean and when was that and of course you’re going to hear all about the last time he went to the Caribbean and what restaurants you absolutely must go to and what’s the very best thing on the menus and don’t forget to order a special Caribbean margarita…

Sometimes just saying, “I’m fine” is—well, just fine.

Turning this whole thing around, what do you expect when you run into your friend at the mall and ask, “How’re you doing these days?” Do you have lots of time in case she answers, “Terrible!” You can’t just walk away, you know. Or if she says, “Fine,” but her face is tired and she’s lost weight and you know she isn’t fine. Do you feel cheated? Why isn’t she telling me what’s going on? I thought we were true friends. Maybe I could help.

Maybe you couldn’t. Maybe that’s why she’s saying she’s fine. Or what if she’s glowing and her smile is taking over her entire face and she says, “I’m fine” and you know it’s way more than that because she looks like she just found out she’s pregnant and she’s been trying for months? Fine? Fine? Come on.

Two choices we have. Fine or the truth. Fine keeps the world turning. The truth is messier. It takes time and a good pair of ears and someone who cares enough to listen and someone who can tell his story in a reasonable amount of time. If we all chose to tell the truth every time someone asks how we are, the world would come to a standstill—sidewalks, restaurants, airports and stores filled with people standing around sharing their truths. Nothing would get done.

But then, maybe we’d all feel fine—now that we’d shared our woes and joys with someone who cares—and we could get on with our miserable or joyful lives, as the case may be, and the world would start turning again.

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