“Hey, how ya doin’?” An analysis of how we live today, and how effective it is in giving us what we are looking for.
The question is so common as to almost not notice it. We’re practically desensitized to it. In fact, we probably don’t even think the person asking the question means for us to answer THAT question, but rather just go along with convention and respond as expected. It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it, that we would ask someone a question we don’t really mean, and not even want the actual answer? And furthermore, why would this be? Why would we who initiate the question be so expecting of a non-answer? And, if we got a real answer, what would we do next? Is this a view into the world of relationships today? Do we even want to stir up the answers to these and so many other follow-on questions?
The wonderful thing is that just as the denials (of caring about the answers) pile up, to avoid confrontation and thus potentially uneasy relationships, so do positive answers pile up, helping us get to where it is we really want to be. The stronger the negatives are in our lives, the more we need positives. The goal isn’t to be neutral, is it? No, the goal is to live life with satisfaction, or, as one of my friends likes to say, “to live life large.” But this raises huge questions about life itself, and whether it’s even possible to live life in a satisfied way. What would that even mean? What would being “satisfied” look like?
“Hey, how ya doin’?” Everywhere you go you will hear it asked. We all know the answers. Great. Fine. Terrific. Ok. I’m good. No problems. Cool, man, how’s it with you? Etc.
We also all know that the answer isn’t the truth, because the truth would take a lot of time to answer, raise more questions, create a possible violation of “personal boundary,” and take us places we didn’t want to go in the first place. Whether its women answering with lots of words about lots of who-knows-what, or men answering with inaudible grunts and man-hugs, both sexes seem averse to the idea of being honest, at least at the point of a greeting. Perhaps it’s a time thing, and we’re all using sort of a verbal short-hand to sift through the moment, to decide if we really WANT to go to Level 2, 3, or 4. Level 4 is where the “real” communication happens, and it is protected carefully because it is at this level where personal vulnerability is heightened. We need to back up a bit, however, because discussion of communication “levels” assumes too much ground has been covered. Let’s look at 3 Ways to Answer The Question.
“Hey, how ya doin’?” 3 Ways to Answer The Question
For many people it’s helpful to think in terms of word pictures. So draw in your mind’s eye a picture of a graph, for example, as we look at 3 possible ways to scale or measure our answer to the question. You can draw 3 separate graphs, and look at them side by side. Or, if you can multi-task, draw them all on one graph with 3 different plot lines. You’ll get the idea.
First way to answer: The first and perhaps most frequent answer uses the Physical Scale. It’s based on how I feel physically at the time. At the bottom of the graph would be pain, and at the top pleasure, if that’s how you see the opposite of pain. We all agree that being pain free is good, and that wherever there is pain there will be attempts to eliminate it. Pain dominates. This is a scale driven by the negative, not the positive, because pain always gains more attention than no-pain, which would be at the middle of this scale. Thus, if you’ve just been injured, and someone asks “How ya doin’?” you will no doubt respond with some answer about the injury, which will lead to all kinds of additional communication. To avoid these additional discussions, many will lie, and answer “I’m fine” when, in truth, they are not. Next to pain is sickness, which also dominates from the negative side. We don’t like to be sick and we don’t like to lead with that in a greeting. It’s not polite. Unless, of course, you’re pretty sick, wherein you’ll hear “Hey, how ya doin’?” “Oh, man, I’m sick as a dog!” (I don’t know where the dog comes into it, but we seem to relate)
Since pain and sickness seem to dominate, and since we often try not to go there in a greeting, the positive is more often than not chosen as the response. I’m fine. Great. Etc.
This certainly doesn’t “satisfy” our pursuit of life, but it avoids an immediate further decline. We try to trick ourselves into something. Denial takes care of the negatives until the positives can come into play and win the day. Hopefully.
At the top of the Physical Scale is pleasure of some kind. It’s not just the absence of pain or discomfort, but moves one to readily seek out the better feeling in a physical way. It could be as simple as the joy of sex, or as profound as a cold drink on a hot day, but either way it is physical. A shower after a workout. The hot tub after a day of skiing. Let’s be honest, we like feeling good physically, and we pursue those times. How often we enjoy them may get us back to the satisfied life issue, but they cannot answer it completely because they are temporary at best.
Second way to answer: The next basis to graph out would be the Emotional Scale. The summary of this from the world of texting would be OMG. (Oh my God) At the bottom of the scale would be CRISIS. What ever the most emotional negative feeling could be, it would be crisis of some kind. Crisis also seems to dominate. We have to drop everything in times of crisis, and deal with it. Moving up the Emotional Scale to the balanced position would be “ambivalence.” Meaning that our emotions are in check, and nothing is pulling us one way or the other. When measured against crisis, ambivalence is a good thing, because it is a move in the positive direction, even if it doesn’t “move us” emotionally. We seem to spend a lot of time here, accepting the “better” instead of the “best” because it is so much improvement over the “worst.” But why settle for less?
Why not move UP the Scale? What do we call the top of the Emotional Scale? Would it be Ecstasy? Excitement? Passion? How do we describe what it is to be at the top emotionally? It’s more than physical. And because it’s emotional, it’s a bit scary. Perhaps it’s even addictive. Women seem to live out their emotions more visibly than men, but certainly men HAVE the emotions, whether culturally acceptable to display them or not. Hopefully we can at least agree on the reality of the Emotional Scale, if not upon understanding it. We can also agree that we’d rather be UP the scale than down it, on a day-in-day-out basis, as this would be called emotional health. And yet, somehow we know that even emotional feelings don’t “satisfy” because they change so quickly. We want them, the good ones, but we don’t really know how to keep them UP over time, because “life happens” and is often beyond our control. Life beyond our control seems to mess with the Emotional Scale as much as it does the Physical Scale. The two get tied together. Perhaps they even plot on the graph together, although not always. The negatives dominate, but we pursue the positives. We seek to eliminate the negatives and replace them with positives. We are not content to just balance out at no-pain or ambivalence, because there is no “life” in these states. We push on; there is something more; there is something better. There HAS to be something that will satisfy.
A third way to answer is by the Spiritual Scale. Really? How is “How ya doin’?” a spiritual question? No one answers this way, do they?
I would say not often enough, and with very poor results. Let’s look as the Spiritual Scale. At the bottom would be “Atheism.” This is one who rejects the spiritual side altogether because there is no Spirit, thus no God. The atheist is left to the Physical and Emotional Scales only, and lives by them exclusively. Atheism is at the bottom, or negative end of the Scale because it rejects the positive. Whether we think we can understand the things of the Spirit or not, Atheism rejects it all, and thus rejects ANY positive that could exist outside of itself.
Most people are not atheists. Most people claim some kind of spiritual connection or belief in God, so where on the Spiritual Scale do they plot? My observation is that most people live way short of the top, perhaps just barely above the centerline, if even there. I don’t know what to call the middle. Having a Confession of Faith and going to church once in awhile certainly doesn’t move one far up the Scale. This isn’t a discussion of who is saved and who is lost, from the academic perspective, but rather a look into what brings life, what sustains life, and how to even get life, from a “reality” perspective. What satisfies? What works?
Again, I don’t know how to label the top of the Spiritual Scale. Perhaps it’s called worship. Perhaps it’s called One-ness. Certainly it means being God-centered, and includes things like devotion, obedience, discipline, etc. However one wishes to label the top of the Spiritual Scale it is recognized as Transcendent. Supernatural. Almighty.
We know from the Book of Job, and through the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, that the top of the Spiritual Scale is how to endure the bottom of the Physical/Emotional Scales. We envy perhaps the great men of faith in Hebrews chapter 11, without envying what happened in their lives to gain them such notoriety. In other words, we like living at the top of the one scale, but don’t relish a frequent pathway to getting there.
How can we answer the question “How ya doin’?” from the Spiritual Scale? Can we really say to someone something spiritual at a greeting? If we could, what would it sound like? Would we look foolish to go there, instead of just being “normal”?
A bit more analysis will help. Both the Physical and Emotional Scales share one thing in common: they are both established by and controlled by “circumstances.” Whether by our own choices made each day, or by the random acts of things beyond our control, we respond accordingly. These Scales are plotted by circumstances. By what is happening in our lives on a day-to-day basis? We feel good or we hurt. We are in good relationships, or not. Life is mostly good, or ….stuff happens. There are those who put the emphasis on personal choices as the key to what stuff is happening! And there are certainly those for whom the choices were made for them by someone else. Children, the elderly, the employed, etc. It seems to me that most of life is lived on the Physical/Emotional Scales, and most people wrestle most with these. If we measured the amount of TIME spent, these two Scales would certainly get the most attention.
It also seems to me that the lack of an intentional and aggressive pursuit of the Spiritual is what holds us back from that which we really seek. The Spiritual is not plotted by circumstances. Personal choices and random happenings may be part of the equation, but not the main determinant for the Spiritual Scale. So what is? How is the Spiritual Scale plotted out? How can everyday life even fit on this Scale? Is it realistic to think a person can move more of his life to the Spiritual Scale, when so much of life is physical and emotional? These are great questions, and fortunately there are answers.
We’ve agreed that the Physical and Emotional Scales are plotted based on circumstances, or, those things that happen TO us. Maybe we can’t determine WHAT happens, but we try to react to what happens with proper management of our emotional life. The word “dysfunctional” is used to describe someone who isn’t managing well, and it seems to be growing in use. Some are called brave; some are tough; some are able to “deal with it” better than others. Let’s be honest, we all deal with it. We have no choice but to deal with it. If the atheists are right and there is no God, then suicide may offer relief. But if they are wrong, the results are not just bad, they may be eternally bad.
The truth is that the Spiritual Scale is not based on the pain vs pleasure equation, nor upon the crisis vs ecstasy relationship. The Spiritual Scale is not based upon circumstances. This is where the Good News gets really good, and really positive, and really Transcendent, or metaphysical; beyond the physical or emotional. The Spiritual is based upon Promise; the promise of God. It’s what He said and says, not what we think or see. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural. It’s not human. It’s not based upon our opinion, research, or even agreement.
We put atheism at the bottom of the Spiritual Scale because the atheist denies the existence of God, and rejects His help and His Presence in daily life. The top of the Spiritual Scale we’ve called Oneness or God centeredness. Perhaps it’s best to call it Faith, and look again to the heroes of the Faith in the Bible to learn about it. Whether one looks to the academia of the theologian, or to the practicality of one who simply “trusts in the Lord,” one is drawn up, not down, higher, not lower, to God and His Word, not to the world and its offers. But how can we activate the Spiritual in our own lives? If it’s not based upon circumstance, what can we do, if anything, to plot higher and not lower? Is it right to just assume that God is in control and Sovereign, so we can’t really do anything to “adjust” the plot? I don’t mean to detract with arguments about Calvinism vs free will, because this argument hasn’t really given answer to the questions, only raised more questions! Dividing the church hasn’t brought unity. Demanding that my dogma is the correct one doesn’t help you plot a higher Scale, especially if yours is different. So, how can we resolve this?
More good news; there is an answer. The Spiritual is based upon God’s Promises and His Word. Where we plot on the curve is based on our response to His Word. So how could this play out in everyday life? How could this apply at the simple greeting “How ya doin’?”
Look at the Psalmists. Read the Psalms and learn how they responded to life. David, the major contributor, had his heart on his sleeve. His physical life, his emotional life, AND his spiritual life were all laid bare in the Psalms. David didn’t deny his feelings, but he put them second to the Word of God. The so-called heroes of the faith all put God’s Word and God’s Promises above their own state of affairs. Over and over we are taught that what God wants to accomplish He will accomplish, and then we are shown the historical fulfillment of His will in the stories of the Bible. The end of the Book is really a return to the beginning, for God will restore Heaven and Earth and man to His Plan. It gives us hope in these trying times, because we see how faithful He is to do what He says He will do.
But what about me? Right now? What about my life and my lack of “satisfaction”? How can the Spiritual Scale be plotted, now?
“Hey, how ya doin’?” (The question opens the door, right?) What would happen if, down at the grocery store, when bumping into that person who asked that question, we said “Jesus is at work in my life. How ‘bout you?” Or how about this answer: “I’m in the middle of a real spiritual fight right now, but with God’s help it’ll be ok.”?
The normal responses of “fine,” “great,” or “I’m good” just minimize the possibility of God in our lives. It’s all us. But simply bringing Jesus into the conversation begins raising the plot lines up the Spiritual Scale. The Bible teaches us that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, not by the world. We are further taught that there are really only two “walks,” not the three I’ve suggested. I’ve used three to try to highlight or emphasize the differences, to make them understandable through practical experience. The Bible teaches us that the two walks are 1. walking in the flesh and 2. walking in the Spirit. The flesh summarizes all that is physical or emotional. We are able to see in teaching terms that these two exist, but we need to put the leaning into practice, which is the very plotting of the Scales I’ve suggested.
Each of us, practically every day, has the opportunity to turn the tide in not only our own life, but in the lives of those we meet, all day long. Perhaps we need to first evangelize our own souls, and begin the day greeting and worshipping Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. What would happen if we did? We are experts in not doing this, so perhaps it’s time to try something new. Really. What can you lose????