This little greeting is really so mundane that we don’t usually stop to think about what it means or how to respond. I guess at one point this question was meant with great sincerity and interest but has evolved into the equivalent of “hello.” Another version of this question in Richmond is “What’s the good word?” I still am not sure how to answer that question.
Frankly, I’m not sure how to answer How Are You anymore either. The usual response in the past used to be “Fine. How are you?” or “Doing well, thanks for asking” or something along those lines. Now, the typical response is “Busy.” Usually there’s a little exhale at the end, thus ending both the speaker’s daily micro break and the conversation at the same time.
That’s it. Just “Busy.”
It makes sense. We are all busy! We really are. Though in these empty nest days, I’m far less Busy than I used to be. I’m still Busy, but comparatively speaking, it’s a cakewalk.
I spent a few moments reflecting about the transition from Fine to Busy. The responses tend to be fairly meaningless, unless it’s the equivalent of a multiple choice question:
- How are you?
a. Fantastic! How are you doing?
b. Fine, thanks for asking.
c. OK. How are you?
d. Hanging in. What about you?
e. Busy. (sigh)
In this case, the response actually is some reflection of the responder’s inner world where the answer is the most true among the available multiple choice answers. (“Well, I’m not really Hanging in. It’s worse than that. But it’s not Busy so much as Stressful. So I choose e. Busy. Final answer (sigh).”)
How did Busy even get on the list? I remember first hearing that response in graduate school in the 90’s. The response came from a German classmate, and it struck me as odd back then. Is that a German thing? Why is it important for her to make sure we know that she’s Busy?
Turns out she was ahead of her time. Maybe even a trend setter.
The sentiment of Busy evokes the Covey Time Management grid theme, where tasks are sorted in a 2×2 with the axes being Urgent/Not Urgent and Important/Not Important. The point of the grid is that we often spend our time in the Urgent/Not Important quadrant (III) since we sometimes get into the habit of believing Urgent = Important. Ideally, we should be spending our time in quadrants I or II.
Are you equating Urgent with Important? Do you select answer “e”? Maybe during your exhale, take that moment to consider whether you’re in the quadrant III and whether you need to move into quadrant I or II.
Easy for me to say. I’m an empty nester. I’m doing Fantastic, thank you very much! Final answer.