I’m Thankful

There is a sweet woman at my church who picked up a new habit over a year ago that she found charming and a great opportunity to witness.  She first brought it up in a group we were both part of by talking about the rather inane greeting habit that I, too, find rather pointless.  Assuming you have eyes and ears and a working tongue and have left your house since adulthood, you have participated in it.  It goes like this:

Two people approach each other from different directions.  Whether they know each other or not is irrelevant.  Maybe they make eye contact, maybe they don’t.  Maybe they smile, maybe they don’t.  Maybe they nod, maybe they don’t.  Maybe they slow down, most likely they don’t.

“Hello,” says one. “How are you?”

“I’m fine.  You?”

“Fine.”

Whether any variation of that last line occurs depends heavily on how fast the people were walking and whether they actually know each other.  It’s usually either mumbled or not bothered with.

I’ve always found this pointless.  Likely, neither party actually cares how the other is doing.  They certainly don’t slow down to absorb the information, not expecting more than a one word response.  The second party almost always responds that they are fine, regardless of whether they are.  If they respond that they aren’t fine, it’s almost a social faux pas.  They’ve deviated from the script.  We are just making noise.  We don’t really care.

We might as well just grunt at each other in passing.

Some people have changed from “fine” to “I’m blessed”, which they imagine to be a more positive response than the rather bland “fine”.  Initially, this annoyed me even more because I found it too full of sweetness.  Eventually, though, I recognized it as just another phrase that that particular person uses every time in the silly little greeting play and left it alone.

The sweet woman from my church had also found “I’m blessed” to be too rote and pointless, although I think she found it an improvement over “fine”.  Someone that she heard on TV or radio said that Christians should respond to “How are you?” with “I’m thankful!”

I reacted to this the same as I did to “I’m blessed” but held my tongue as she continued.  “When you do that,” she said, “it takes people by surprise and they ask you why you are thankful and then you have the opportunity to tell them!  You should always be ready with a response!”

I personally thought that many people would respond with an internal groan and a roll of their eyes but I didn’t say so.  Several of the other hearers of her wisdom, those possessing of less cynicism and more grace, exclaimed that they thought it was a wonderful idea.  And so it came to be that this woman and one of the men replaced their “fine” with “I’m thankful”.

I have an almost visceral reaction to people manipulating me, whether the manipulation is nefarious or not.  If I know you want me to behave or respond in a certain manner, I will resist.  Especially if I find the whole process silly.  In this particular scenario, I know the game.  I know they are saying they are thankful in order to provoke me to ask them why and I refuse to play along.

Ironically, I can’t drop the decades old habit of asking people how they are doing, or of responding to a similar request with “I’m fine – how ’bout you?”.  Which means I’m inevitably faced with their “I’m thankful” response, to which I have always responded with some variation of “that’s nice” or a smile and a nod.

After a year of this, one such exchange happened recently between me and the sweet woman’s disciple while the sweet woman was present.  She turned to the man and said significantly and with reproof, “She didn’t ask you why you’re thankful.”

“No, she didn’t,” he responded with mild, slightly feigned disapproval before saying matter-of-factually, “She never does.”

It hadn’t struck me that we had exchanged greetings often enough for them to notice my passive aggressive refusal to play along.  I smiled at them and said truthfully, “It’s because I know you are expecting it.”

We are different creatures, them and me.  They happily absorb themselves in sweet platitudes and feel-good moments and habits.  Me, I am cynical, logical, and analytical – to a fault.  I find a system of interaction that you have constructed with expectations for people to respond in a particular way to be at best silly and at worst exclusionary.

On the silly end, I don’t find their habit of saying “thankful” any different than anyone else’s habit of saying “fine” or “blessed”.  I don’t see why they should expect anyone to ask why someone is thankful any more than asking why someone is blessed (or fine, for that matter).  I would bet that most people don’t ask why so I don’t feel compelled to ask just because I know they are fishing for it.

On the exclusionary end, those that “get it” can respond appropriately and make the thankful person feel good about the response.  Those that don’t, the thankful person can categorize in his or her mind as inattentive and unloving for not caring to ask.  As a person who knows what they want yet not willing to give it to them, I suppose I don’t get even the possibility of benefit of doubt.

Hopefully they just think I’m stubborn rather than insensitive.  I’m learning to be true to myself, regardless of how people expect me to behave.  I’m pretty sure those two people still love me so I guess it’s working out ok.  Then again, if I’m not going to make myself into the image that each person I come across expects, then I suppose I’ll also have to be content with some folks deciding they don’t like what they see.

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16 thoughts on “I’m Thankful

  1. I’m going to be honest, so I hope you don’t think me horrible. I always get a little weirded out when I get a response other than “fine,” “great,” or “not so hot” when I ask how someone is doing. I’m alright with someone, especially someone I know well, telling me their troubles, but a response like “blessed” or “thankful,” would leave me saying, “That’s great” or “Wonderful” and then quickly smiling and moving on. I’d be very unlikely to ask them “why.” I’m certain it’s because I’d be afraid that they’d begin witnessing to me, something that I find rather uncomfortable. I understand from my own upbringing in the church, that spreading the Word is an integral part of being a Christian. At my age, I have my own set of beliefs that aren’t likely to be swayed. I would just find the whole interaction to feel so forced and awkward that I’d smile and try to get away. The odd thing is, I’ll bet that poor lady, as sweet as she is, doesn’t realize that her response probably sometimes turns people away more than intrigues them. I respect her for trying, but I’d still just smile and answer with a quick “great!” 🙂

    • In order to think you horrible, I’d have to think myself horrible since I react the same way, so you are safe from that here. 😉 You word it well when you say you’d “find the whole interaction to feel so forced and awkward”. And you are right that she, and many like her, don’t realize that their response can cause more harm than good. That’s where I was going with the “exclusionary” part. So often, people’s attempts to “witness” are done in such a way that the only people who feel comfortable with it are those that don’t need it. That is, those that are already “in the club”. And then even some people “in the club” aren’t comfortable either!

      I once had a guy sitting next to me in the waiting room of the doctor’s office strike up a conversation. He was asking questions that made it clear that he had an agenda: making sure my soul had been saved from eternal damnation. And if it wasn’t, he was going to take care of the matter right then and there. No matter how nice he was, I was distinctly uncomfortable and wished he’d go away. I think it’s the feeling like they have an agenda part that gets to me. They are doing this because they feel they need to and because they want to get a specific response from me, not because they actually give a flip about me personally at all. I’m just a number or a potential feather in their salvation cap. I’m sure they see it differently – feeling that trying to save my soul proves they care about me very much. But… they care about me in some general, vague sense but not as *me*. They couldn’t be bothered to get to know *me* before they started concerning themselves with my soul. Ok, off the soap box now. lol

      • The last paragraph in your response couldn’t have summed it up more perfectly! It’s no fun being part of a collective “me!”
        I really enjoyed this post and it’s good to know that there are Christians without a generalized agenda. Have a great day! 🙂

  2. I found your post fascinating! I, too, hate meaningless greetings and responses. The thing that I do is try to personalize the question with sincere eye contact. And I mean sincere. We have no idea as to what that person is going through. I met a friend once that way and found out that she had a chronically ill child. When I respond (however I respond – “Great. I’m still on this side of the grass!”), I wish them a lovely day or evening. Such niceties are lost in our culture of “no problem.” Thank you so very much for a thought-provoking post! I find your honesty refreshing. Have a lovely day and I really mean it!

    • LOL! I really hope you have a lovely day as well!

      When I am focused and trying, I try to make sincere eye contact and give a warm, genuine smile as well. That’s not to say that I never perform the rote “Hey, how are you” routine, but I try to do the other more than not. It’s nice when you can tell that someone is trying to be more than a robot. 😉

  3. I can absolutely relate to your visceral reaction when people try to manipulate you, and the resistance to playing along. I always hated roleplaying and icebreaker activities in school and workplaces for the same reason. Nice to hear I’m not the only one who hates the concept of doing or saying something simply because it is expected as part of the routine. And, in a business setting, especially customer service, I have always found that giving a variety of answers or asking original questions in a greeting situation goes a lot farther in terms of establishing rapport. The perfunctory “how are you?” is the first part of the problem and “fine” “blessed” or “thankful” just continue the same tired and meaningless routine. Time for some meaningful creativity!

    BTW, I just read the other comments and agree especially with the uncomfortable and sometimes agenda-fraught “witnessing.” Working with the public, and for over 20 years in a customer service and retail management capacity (read: I am the testifier’s “captive audience” that cannot escape because my JOB is to talk to them), I have had literally hundreds of people assume that my soul is not currently saved and they must immediately rectify this crisis. I find it excruciatingly insulting that a total stranger would make such presumptive leaps about my private life and beliefs. I’m not working at the store to talk about my faith or any other personal matters. I’m there to sell you the products you came in for (presumably, to at least browse for, if not purchase), or to help you with finding the information you seek or the technical support you need. I am not working there so I can collect yet another brochure which tells me that two of the most widely practiced religions in the world (one of which I was raised up amid and taught about the Bible from the perspective of such) is, in the words of the brochure, nothing but a “cult.” I, too, understand that witnessing or testifying is part of the gig for many Christians. But when I am at work, I am there to work. Not to endure someone’s misguided and agendized soul “saving,” which much like you said, always feels as if it is more about the “saver” notching one more on the record than it is about actually caring for the spiritual welfare of the “savee.”

  4. I always found the comments “How are you? and How are you doing?” extremely annoying. Especially when the people asking don’t really care and are robotic about it. Years ago I would answer, How are you? with a detailed explanation of a dozen aches, pains, and mental illnesses, thereby delaying the asker’s journey or task. Those people never asked me again, and probably stopped asking everyone in fear of a repeat performance. Of course, this also delayed my progress so I often couldn’t do it as often as I would have liked.

    This was replaced by the exchange “How are you?” “Compared to what?” This leaves 95% of the people standing with their mouths open, looking stupid, and unable to respond to the unexpected reply. I’ve done it for so many years now that it is an automatic response from me to the “How are you?” comment, which it seems is said by everyone, everywhere, every day. Try it! “Compared to what?” You will love the response of a blank stare, mouth agape, and seeing the wheels spinning in a brain that cannot think of an answer. (The other 5% will say “Yesterday” to which I always have a smart ass answer.)

    The other famous non-question is “How are you doing?” Which of course requires the automatic response of “How am I doing what?”

    I enjoy arriving at the cash register in any store where I know I will be asked one of several questions, none expecting a reply, and totally dumbfounded when one is given. Other questions often asked at the register, and my automatic response are: “Are you ready to check-out?” “DON’T EVER SAY THAT TO AN OLD PERSON!!!” – “Is that everything?” (Look wide eyed all around the store and say) “NO, how would I get it all home, and where would I put it?” – (After scanning your last item) “Is there anything else?” (Look at them incredulously and sweep your hand over the empty belt and say) “YES, I want all of this invisible shit!” There are lots more, but I’ll end this for today before it becomes tomorrow.
    “Have a nice day.” “Don’t tell me what kind of a day to have.” But I usually just say “Too late.”

    • Wow. That’s a lot of hostility for a total stranger who is just doing their job. I have worked with the public in customer service situations for over 20 years and I will tell you that the alternative to not making small talk with the customer is usually a silence that is incredibly awkward and is generally met with a complaint to management, or even a letter or phone call to corporate. No one wants to lose their job because a customer mistakes their lack of small talk for rudeness. And, for the record, “Is that everything?” or the like is actually a necessary question. You’d be surprised how many people get to the register midway through shopping because they have a question but aren’t ready to cash out. If I were to assume they’re ready to pay, they will usually get rather indignant and some people will abandon the purchase and leave because the cashier was “presumptuous and unhelpful.” Watch other customers in line ahead of you. You will probably observe some of this, especially at grocery stores. I was yelled at plenty of times in my first few weeks as a grocery cashier back in the 80s to change my approach to customers permanently. It served me well. I usually have had lots of customers seek me out personally and say so to management because I took care of them and anticipated their needs. And as a manager myself, it increased business at any company I’ve worked for. Just saying…there’s always a reason for another person’s behavior, ESPECIALLY when they are at work.

      • Sy is well known for an apparent abundance of hostility but I’m not sure how much faith you should put in him actually having said those things to anyone. He probably technically qualifies as an internet troll but I’ve known him for a long time now and I can assure you that he’s got a strong caring side too. 🙂

        You are right, of course, that those folks are just trying to do their jobs and don’t deserve any hostility. That said, I’ve also experienced the frustration with them saying things from rote or that don’t make sense or because they have to: “Would you like an apple pie with that?” right after I said “And that’s all.” I still stay polite, but…

    • So… if you are deaf, how exactly do you conduct these conversations? Or were these sweet exchanges all before you got old? Or maybe that’s why you like being deaf now, so you don’t have to put up with the inanity.

      It’s interesting. My experience with the greetings in passing is that people are still walking – they don’t actually stop! So if you tried to draw it out, you’d be talking to their backs as they walked on.

      • Melanie S. and mybrightspots, I am an EXPERT at reading lips with over 40 years experience. The FIRST thing I say to people is “I am deaf, so if I’m not looking at you, you are talking to yourself.” Yes, I am extremely hostile to everyone, thank you, with the exception of my family and animals.” Please be assured that I do say these things to strangers every day because i suffer from DGAS.

          • I like you a lot, so when you found my hostility disagreeable years ago, I made a conscious effort to stop. (But only towards you as you can attest 😉 )
            I do consider you as extended family.

            Oh, and since you asked………… DGAS is “Don’t Give A Shit”

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