What do we do to ensure a meaningless and close-cropped conversation?  We use our “sing-song” voice.   We extend our words and close sentences with a prolonged syllable and an upward inflection.  “Hello; how are you?” become heelloooo, how arrrrrrre youuuuuu?’ and the tone streams upward with each extended syllable and trails off at the end.

This is code for, “I am just exchanging an obligatory pleasantry, and I neither want nor expect a truly responsive let alone meaningful answer.”  The proper response is a sing-song “fiiinnnne and youuuuuuuu?”  You answer with a quick “fine” of your own and the conversation – if you can call it that – is over. 

Just listen, these meaningless exchanges surround us.  And when we ask the sing-song “how are you” question and get a genuine response like “Lousy, I have had a stomach virus all week, and my husband is an ass,” we are genuinely annoyed.  We think to ourselves, gees, I’m sorry I asked.  But we did ask – sort of!  But alas our sing song invitation was ignored, and we got a truly responsive answer.  Shame on them.

Next time you encounter a friend on the street, ask them how they are very matter-of-factly.  They will look at you like you are from Mars(!), probably wondering if you know something or heard something worrisome about them.

This is not a judgment.  We all do it and will always do it.   It is fascinating though how early and eagerly we can turn one another away from a truly meaningful exchange of thoughts and ideas.


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