Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"What's up?"

“How’re things?”
“Pretty good. You?”
“Pretty good.”
Sound familiar? In no exact words, I’ve had this exact exchange hundreds of times. Thoughtless? Often. Meaningless? Maybe. Intellectually stimulating? Never.
Pick your opener: What’s up? How’ve you been? What’s happenin’? How’s it hangin’? These questions have almost become rhetorical. You can answer them with a nod, smile or wave…or my favorite, another question.
“How’s it going?”
“How’s it going?”
With the right inflection and lack of eye contact, this is a completely legitimate, plausible, greeting scenario. My responses to these sorts of questions at a time were far too automatic (and perhaps they still are). I would sometimes answer the wrong question…or answer a question that wasn’t asked:
“Hey man, what’s up?
“Good, you?”
“Hey, Jimbo!”
“Not bad, yourself?”

To force myself away from using the same old responses, I’ve introduced new automatic responses. Let’s face it: you have to say “hi” to so many people that you inevitably end up saying the same things (even when how you’re actually “doing” may vary quite a bit). However, if you choose to say something people aren’t used to hearing, suddenly everyone is paying a little closer attention. Who knows? You might even have a real conversation or even learn something! Here are a few I like:

When asked “What’s up?”
Instead of “Not much” or “Same old, same old” I prefer to ecstatically exclaim “Just enough!” or “So much rockology!” You might choose to go the pun route and stare upwards for a few pensive moments, then finally reply “I’m not really sure… I s’pose some foam ceiling tiles and ventilation ducts…but beyond that, the sky is the limit…of my personal experience. Never really thought about it. Why do you ask?”

Or when asked “What’s new?”
I might get philosophical. “Interesting question. Is anything really new? Or is matter simply recycled and reorganized?”

Or in response to "How are you?"
"Delightfully tangy, yet robust. With perhaps a hint of something sweet and exotic."

Or one of my favorites, when asked “How’s it going?”
You might pretend that the pronoun “it” is referring to something complicated and specific, which you were discussing at length with this person in a prior meeting, and are now reporting on “its” progress. “Oh, it’s lost a certain critical appeal, but the lawsuit is ongoing, so there’s no guarantee that it’ll be cleared up without some serious action by some committed advocates. I almost can’t stand it anymore. Fingers crossed!”

You can swap things up from the other end, as well. Instead of asking all the same questions such as “Anything interesting happen lately?” you might ask “Anything awesome, decent, or mediocre happen lately?” I like to give people the whole range, because the chances are, if they haven’t been cryogenically frozen or in a coma lately, something they’ve done recently fits one of those adjectives. (Wait, I think either of those things would be "awesome"...or at least "decent." Can't imagine what cryogenic freezer burn has got to be like...)

Now I’m not saying that every exchange needs to delve into some profoundism of human experience, but if you feel like you have too many empty salutations… try mixing things up! It may feel goofy, but so does the word “salutations” when not accompanied by a firm militaristic salute (which is now one of my frequent alternatives to “hello”). If you don’t have time, don’t feel obligated…but if you do, you can certainly spice things up!

Brian Regan knows a similar feeling...


squirrelyearl said...

Wow, you really thought all of that out.

Kudos on the XKCD and Brian Regan. Although, I do lament not being able to see the XKCD mouseover, that's often the best part of those comics.

Britton Stanfill said...

Just the other day I was leaving the bank and they said, "thanks for coming in today." and I responded "you too... I mean for helping me today." Good points in your post, as you said it extends not just to greetings but small talk in general. I think small talk could be defined as not only words without real meaning but words that are said repetitiously. That repetition of the same words cause a great loss in value too which you pointed out. The bank teller who thanked me tells every single one of the banks clients the same thing. She had told me the same thing in a pervious visit.

I think that might be why we have been commanded by God not to use his name in vain, and use vain repetitions, we are placing him in the same category of importance and meaning as the question "What's up?".

The Jimbo said...

Right on, Britton.
To get theological...
I consider myself "perfect" on certain sins. I automatically abhor cigarettes. I am not tempted by them in the slightest. To get to that point with the sins that still do tempt me (like judging someone who DOES smoke), takes time. Eventually the Christ-like response needs to become the automatic response. But there's always a better and a best, so I think to achieve perfection in all things requires as increased vigilance and study of our surroundings. To be increasingly aware of how our actions effect others. Once you master the basics and being nice to your neighbor is automatic, suddenly you have time to think about other things you can work on, like what you can do to lighten your neighbor's burdens. This is just my thought experiment, but it kind of agrees with my concept of the Lord's perfection in omnipotence. He knows all and so is in complete control of His actions, and He only chooses good.