I'm Fine

Next to “I have read and agreed to the Terms and Conditions”, “I’m fine (sigh)” is the most often told lie in the English language. When I sense upset or illness, and hear someone say: “Nothing’s wrong, I’m fine.” The hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention and, I must admit, I go ballistic (at least on the inside).

Why do we people do that????

When I ask someone, “How are you doing (or feeling)?” I actually want to know. I’m even possibly concerned. It’s not a rhetorical question – so it begs a response – and it is an open-ended question, which, as anyone who’s ever taken an exam knows, requires more than a one-word answer! It’s an essay question fer cryin’ out loud! I’m looking for details here. I really want to know how you are.

I’m sure that for some people, “How are you?” is generally nothing more than an icebreaker; filler, a throw away greeting. But, for me, if I ask a question I actually expect an answer and some level of conversation to follow! If I wasn’t truly interested or I wanted a one-word response, I would have just asked, “Are you okay?” See? That’s a simple Yes or NO kind of query. No conversation expected.

Oh, and when someone asks me how I am, I tend to think about it and then give an honest, considered answer… “Kinda off today. How about you?” “Feeling great thanks, you?” “I’m exhausted! It’s hard to sleep when it’s so hot. How are you handling the heat?” “I feel great, thanks. I think it may be contagious… wanna catch some?!”

I love to surprise and delight people with a short but honest answer. Lord knows it’s usually unexpected. And regardless of what my answer is, I look them right in the eyes – the ‘ole human connection in action.

Sometimes, if I’m having a particularly rough day (Yes, even Susie Sunshine has ‘em), I say so and follow it up with: “It’s gonna take some doing to turn this one around. Your asking me about it sure helps, though. Thanks!” And, at the other end of the FINE spectrum, if I am having a tough day AND feeling grumpy, I have been known to either ignore completely or do an instant mega emotional dump all over their annoying, phony self-serving question. But, thank you, that hardly ever happens.

My favorite response is, “If I were any better I’d be twins!” People always smile and comment when I say that. Even just saying it makes me feel great. It’s a really happy comment, isn’t it? And I’m all about sharing the joy.

And, when I respond with “AWESOME, thanks! How about you?”(Which, by the way is my usual response.), I almost always get a big smile and a short, pleasant conversation begins…

Sure, I’ve occasionally gone down the path of throwaway question/throwaway answer. Really, who hasn’t? So, I guess I do understand at last a few of the reasons for the quick and simple “fine”.  Sometimes, when I’m in a hurry or a bad mood – or if I’m really preoccupied, I don’t even hear the question, so I don’t answer at all. There are times when, hey, I’m not sure how I feel. And there are times that I simply don’t want to talk about it or it’s just none of their business. Regardless, if I respond with an “I’m FINE”, you can be pretty sure it’s a BIG LIE… I’m not!!!

When comedian, George Carlin asked someone, “How are you?” and was answered with “I’m fine”, he said: “No, YOU are not fine. Your hair is fine!”


Every Lie Is Two

Years ago (many years ago) I went into business with a girlfriend. She was a force of nature – like a landslide. She was big, brash, blunt and – dare I say it? – ballsy! I thought those things would be assets in a business partner. Well, at least I did… until she became my business partner. Turned out she and I had very different ethics and values when it came to running a business.

She lied to one of our vendors about a problem they had caused for us. Yes, they screwed up, that was true. But we figured out how to work around the problem and all it cost us was a little extra legwork and aggravation. She, however, told the apologetic vendor that they had cost us a $1000 job and she expected them to cover it. They agreed.

When she told me what she’d done I was mortified – and I told her so. And that was when her justification process kicked in.  For the next few hours we ‘discussed’ the situation. I said it was wrong, unethical and a lie. She justified what she did by explaining that they screwed up and should pay for their mistake. They were a ‘big’ company and they could afford it. We could use an extra thousand dollars to fix up the store and put some of their money toward a new delivery vehicle. If we’d had a good delivery vehicle their screw-up wouldn’t have been so bad. We deserved a new one. She was teaching them a valuable lesson and I should be able to see that. Besides, she told me, they owed us for all the upset and running around we had to do because of them. It would make their company better in the long run. She knew what she was doing and it was the right thing to do.

Her defense of what she did – the explaining and justifying – didn’t alter any circumstances or my opinion about the morality of what she had done. All it did was have me shake my head in wonder at her ability to find reasons for everything she did. She had actually convinced herself that, once again, she was 100% right. In her mind she was justified.

FYI, I called the owner of the ‘offending’ company and told him that, after discussing it, we decided that all they owed us was a refund for the materials that didn’t get delivered. He was thrilled…  and I no longer had a partner/friend.

In the years since that defining episode, I’ve met other justification junkies. You know the type. No matter what they do or say (especially if the morality of it was in doubt), they were ready, willing and able to share their ‘good reasons’ for having done it or said ‘it’. I’m referring primarily to the ‘unethical’ choices that people make. The problem is, justifying those choices makes it easier the next time a tough choice has to be made. We get better and better at justifying the more we do it. These justification junkies have justified themselves and their actions so much for so long that they are totally convinced that anything they do is right and necessary. You can almost smell the overwhelming toxicity spewing forth from their self-defense.

I know we all justify our words and deeds to some extent, and we all love to be right, but when someone steps that far outside the moral boundaries of ethical human behavior – and is able to feel ‘right’ and good about it… I say it’s time to cull the herd.