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I’m Fine Thanks. How Are You?

March 22, 2011

How many times a day do you automatically spew that line? And do you really mean it? And do you really care about the answer to your question?

As part of the work that I’ve been doing, I’ve been answering that question with “I’m fine” or even “I’m great”. I’m not only providing it as an answer, but I’m honestly trying to BE fine and/or great. Because really, how bad can it be? I live in a wealthy country, I have plenty of food and water, a nice roof over my head, and relative health.

Of course, you can still be fine without any of those things, but that requires a bit more work.

At the nursing home where my dad lives, one of the other residents is a relatively young woman who uses a wheelchair and has significant motor control issues. Her speech is extremely difficult to understand, a three syllable word can take several seconds. But if you ask her how she is, she will give you a three syllable answer. She is “wonderful”.  Every single time.

Anyway, I’m bothered today by something that happened over a year ago.

I was still working, but we had been told our client was ending the contract with us, the agency would be closing, we were all out of a job.  On the day that I was called up to HR to get my termination papers I was, of course, in a foul mood.

I left the HR office with the termination agreement in hand and sat waiting for the elevator wondering what the hell I was going to do next. As the elevator door opened, I was faced with one of our clients. A wonderful woman with whom I had worked closely for several years. She was headed back to her office several floors up, I was only going up one floor.

She looked a bit uncomfortable, but seemed to force a smile and said “Hi, how are you?”

My bitterness came out. In that moment she was the enemy. I didn’t manage much of an answer. I waved the legal sized white envelope in the air and said “Termination papers, how do think I am doing?”  The elevator doors opened for my floor and I left her standing there looking uncomfortable.

I was pleased with myself. What kind of stupid question was that? She knows what’s going on! And to smile on top of it? Some nerve! I’m GLAD I made her feel uncomfortable!

( Sigh. )

I’m not very proud of that moment.

I’ve played it over and over in my head since then, wishing I could change it.

About a month later I found out this woman had cancer. This kind and wonderful person had cancer.  She had very little precious time left on this earth. She was gone within months.

Did she know that day on the elevator? Had she just found out recently? Was that why she looked uncomfortable but was bravely faking a smile?

I’ll never know.

I just wish I could have given the my now standard answer.

I’m fine thanks. How are you?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2011 8:03 pm

    wow … talk about a karmic moment walking up and smacking you one! Great lesson and well written …. as my 80 year old Mom would say though, “it ain’t a mistake if you learn from it, dear.”

    cheers! MJ

  2. March 23, 2011 11:46 pm

    So I’m wondering what I’d say in that situation. For some reason, “I’m fine” feels really insincere if you’re not; I’m not a big fan of that.

    The lady at the nursing home WAS indeed wonderful! She was being authentic. And the client might have been genuinely concerned about you and struggling to show it. Another person could have been terminated and could have been thrilled because it was just the push he needed to start that business he’d be meaning to start. I think that your response was sincere. Maybe it would have been better if it was a bit kinder, like “I’ve just been terminated and I’m completely devastated. I can’t believe it really happened.” or something like that.

    I wouldn’t beat myself up. I agree with MJ about learning the lesson.

    You also could consider if you’d like to send well wishes to her and perhaps apologize for being grumpy. But don’t beat yourself up 🙂

    I like this post. It reminds me that we all have troubles and challenges and we never know what the other person is experiencing.


    • March 24, 2011 9:06 pm

      Hi Olivia!!
      I guess what I’d hope is that I would be able to take life less seriously, and answer “I’m fine” with sincerity. To actually understand that something like losing my job is insignificant in the grand scheme, I really AM fine.
      But I’m not there, and I certainly wasn’t at that time. What I’m beating myself up about is that I intentionally tried to make her feel bad for asking the question. I think the most sincere answer would have been just that I was very upset, or “I’m struggling” or something like that, preferably without any anger in my tone.
      Some lessons are hard.

      • Kitty permalink
        March 28, 2011 11:08 pm

        I struggle with the insincere “I’m fine”.
        Particularly as I battle mental health issues, meaning that all can actually be “fine” but that doesn’t stop my inner demons from wanting to self destruct.
        I started saying “I’m having a tough day today” or “I’m having a moment – but it will pass” if I felt that I could. I found the person’s smile or kind words helped. Which is totally cheesy. But a “that sucks” or a “let me know if I can help” could cheer me up immensely.

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