Friday, March 11, 2016

Salutational Questions

Some people like to criticize the custom of greeting each other with a question like “How are you?” when in all reality, we’re not expecting (or desiring) a detailed answer. At least not at the moment. Instead, we expect our greeting to be met with a standard response: something like “Good, and yourself?” And I often hear people insinuate that this customary way of greeting each other just goes to show our society’s lack of honesty and transparency. But I think that’s overblown. This is just a simple greeting.

Consider the word “hello.” What does it mean? Basically nothing. It’s just a greeting. It’s a word that we say in order to politely acknowledge someone’s presence. It doesn’t have to mean anything more than that. And I think the greeting “How are you?” could be placed in the same category.

Suppose I say “How are you?” to a friend and he responds with “Hey! Good to see you.” He technically hasn’t answered my “question,” but that doesn’t matter. We’ve exchanged polite greetings, and that’s all that needed to be done. This doesn’t illustrate a lack of honesty or transparency on the part of either person. If we can have rhetorical questions, then I don’t see why we can’t have salutational questions. Neither are genuine requests for information.

That said, sometimes I’ll say “How are you?” expecting nothing but the usual reply, only to hear the person tell me that he’s honestly not doing well. And this takes me off guard, but in a good way. It speaks volumes.

No comments: