Written by Kyu Park
The routine answer to “How are you?”, is “I’m fine”. But it had occurred to me that this nonchalant response is irritatingly pretentious. Had I actually been fine half of the times I forced that smile on my face? Social norms compel us to feign fineness. It is a social ‘trend’ to be fine. Most evidently, social media teeming with the happiest moments of people’s lives creates an illusion that everyone is more than fine. This has made us reluctant to admit that at times we are not fine.
Revealing that one is not fine could make others feel uncomfortable. It has thus become an etiquette to withhold personal angst from others. Unfortunately, freedom of speech seems to be appreciated only when it doesn’t disturb others. But this cannot be blamed. Feelings are like viruses. They are contagious. Since most problems that people go through are not unique, one could easily emphasize with another’s pain. When we see other people going through such period of their lives, we remember past pains or anticipate its future occurrence in our own lives. Yet, true sympathy demands a lot effort and could be draining. People do not want to be deal with every acquaintance’s depressing emotions. The mask of fineness is a defensive mechanism that we developed under such vulnerabilities.
Life becomes lonely, surrounded by masked people. Frustration is amplified by the contrast one draws between oneself and others. But in everyone’s life, there are as many moments of failures as successes, melancholy as bliss, and anxiety as peace. In the chaotic world we live in, it is impossible to maintain complete stability throughout our whole lives. Inevitably, we lose some battles and are temporarily discouraged. However, one learns courage from losses. Like muscles, courage grows with appropriate stress: failure. It is not consecutive successes that help develop courage. In contrary, a person who has seldom fail are at the higher risk of breakdowns. It's the overcoming of unsuccessful moments that build an individual’s courage to get back up on feet.
Overcoming failures may need some time. Time spent with oneself, or time with someone who one could rely on. Either way, time is key. Telling others that one is fine when one is actually not is like covering up an untreated wound. The depression would fester and come back stronger. When one is not fine, one should be able to procure the time needed to heal.
This is why the greeting, “How are you” shouldn’t be used by someone who doesn’t care about you. It could be a sensitive question, and only those who would actually care should be granted the rights ask this question. They must anticipate both a positive and negative answer. Only those that go through the burden of sharing the pain earn the moments of sharing joy.
So when someone asks you how you are, you have all the rights to proudly say, “I am not fine”. Accept it, and let others who care about us know about it. Let's give ourselves the time and space we need. Pretending to be okay when you’re not doesn’t show that you’re strong. It only shows that you’re too afraid to confess that you, too, could be weak at moments. Humans are not emotionless machines that could trudge on life’s hardships without rest. Proudly human, I am proudly not fine at some moments of my life.