How many times a day do we hear, ask and reply to this on autopilot?
Hardly anyone actually answers this question. If we felt free to, many of us might answer something akin to:
"I am weary of the human game in which we each forsake our inner truth and deny our inner pain for ease of social interaction because we're all to some degree fascinated by and terrified of each other.
I am starved for a sense of community and fearful that I may not be anything but self-reinforcing hallucinations swirling around the drain of mass culture. I feel the echo of impending mass extinction in the aches and pains of this body and the gravity of this world makes tiny cracks in my spirit.
I cry out for some company in this howling void of illusion. Please see me and accept me as the flawed being in search of love that I am, that the seeds of my being may grow rather than continue to wait out the winter in their psychological hulls."
But that doesn't roll off the tongue at dinner. So we say, "I'm fine," and immediately pass the hot potato with, "How are you?" And so it goes.
Society is a coping mechanism and it isn't one size fits all. Much of what most of us do and say are placeholders for real interaction, born of habit as we try to fit the mold.
Did we ever really know anyone? How much have horror have we unleashed, how much pain have we ignored, and how much have we lost by being cowardly and polite instead of simply truthful?
This is not to say we shouldn't keep checking in with each other. If we ask, "how are you?" with an open heart, those we encounter may sense a space in which to finally answer. In the meantime there will still be dozens of automatic surface-only interactions a day, but there is room there for kindness in the space within the hollow words. Most communication is nonverbal anyway. You can use the tired old dialogue to imply a deeper story if you talk with your eyes and from your heart.
In short, it's ok to play the game until we're ready for what lies beneath it, but we have to be kind to the other players in the meantime. We have to stop treating other people's pain as a threat to our serenity.
Let's give each other permission to hurt. Without that, none of the wounds of our species can ever heal, much less escape the gravity well of willful delusion. Until we learn to open that space for each other, we should practice on ourselves.
So how are you? You don't have to tell me. But tell yourself.