We hear a lot about living with authenticity these days.
We’re encouraged to stay in integrity and to live honestly. Yet, when it comes to this seemingly benign word, we often are doing the exact opposite:
“How are you?”
Fine is not fine. It tends to be code for so much more—for serious states and conditions that need to be directly addressed and dealt with for what they are.
The true meaning of “fine” might instead be: broken, useless, alone, fragile, anxious, lonely, empty, bitter, defeated, never good enough. The list is as varied and as unique as the person saying “fine.”
Still, if these states of being are truly what we’re experiencing, why do we feel the need to cover them with the “f-word?”
1. We believe it’s just too difficult or too painful to get into.
Getting real and honest about major issues in our lives is scary. Things like addiction and abuse, for instance, can make us want to evade discussion. We believe that talking about it makes it real—and that is frightening to us. We dread the fallout, the confrontation, and the necessary changes that will be required of us for “opening a can of worms.”
Therefore, “fine” can serve as the cork we stop the bottle with. A one-word answer, somehow, in our minds, can keep reality at bay.
2. We want to punish (be passive-aggressive, display the silent treatment).
We’ve seen many comedic sketches about one spouse giving the other the silent treatment. Say, for example, the unsuspecting husband, unaware of how he has angered his wife, cluelessly asks, “Everything okay, honey?”
And, of course, the wife responds with a snippy, “Fine!”
But we all know the true answer.
The wife may sulk, pout, slam doors, let out loud, huffing sighs—anything except talk about the problem.
Whether or not we want to admit it, you and I have responded in this fashion. We are offended, hurt, upset. And we want to make our offender pay. We want them to feel uncomfortable, maybe even afraid, guilty, or ashamed. We resort, then, to using “fine” as a way of making our point.
But talking things out, adult to adult? Well, let’s be honest. That’s not nearly as rewarding or fun as the passive-aggressive tactic. The mature approach requires we take responsibility for our actions and our role in the situation.
Again, that’s not as much fun as a sharp, pointy “Fine!”
3. We want to protect others.
Plausible deniability, for many of us, can promise protection for those we love and care about. If we can convince them, “It’s not that bad,” then maybe it’s not.
“Fine,” therefore, sends the message, “Everything’s okay here. Nothing to see. All is well.”
But sooner or later, in one circumstance or another, life will happen to us. Death, illness, divorce, financial and legal challenges—they can all surface within our lives, and those who love us will know. And each one of these things requires that we deal with them, beyond the one-word, “fine.”
“Fine,” no matter how much we wish it were otherwise, does not cut it.
4. We want to protect ourselves.
Again, plausible deniability shows up. We try to self-soothe with, “It’s not that bad.” In this situation, we feel threatened, in danger. We are the ones seeking the safety that “fine” promises to deliver us.
We don’t want to deal with something. So, “fine” becomes our self-protective stop sign. Halt. Go no further. Do not cross. Everything is “fine.”
More than anything, we want to be safe.
5. We believe no one really cares.
The landscape looks desolate. We are alone. Therefore, in our deep pain, in our deep need, we conclude that no one cares. We don’t arrive at that conclusion automatically. No one emerges from the womb with that idea innately implanted.
Instead, we accumulate experiences and lessons over time, which seem to support that concept. And often, it’s coupled with two dominant and screaming questions that are not answered satisfactorily:
“Why are you hurting me?”
“Why aren’t you helping me?”
Asking either of those questions, directly or silently, once or twice, is one thing. However, if we perceive a life of repeated, constant neglect of those questions, and of our very being, we can more easily determine that no one cares. If they did, where are they?
Upon being resigned to this self-imposed fate that no one cares, we then resort to “fine” as a response to our condition. We don’t see a point in engaging any further. Why should we bother?
It’s easy for any of us to revert to the “fine” responses. It’s the quick way of shooing away things that are too uncomfortable and too painful. “Fine” is the necessary brush-off.
But we cheat ourselves, as well as others, by doing this. We act with cowardice instead of brave integrity. We close ourselves off to possibility by reducing the more complicated feelings, like “anxious,” “lonely,” or “never good enough” to that one blanket statement, “Fine.”
We bypass what’s going on, truly, within us if we pave over the deeper thoughts and feelings. It’s more convenient to mask them with an innocuous word, instead of acknowledging and working through them.
What if, when someone asks us, “How are you?” we, instead, respond with something like, “I’m scared”?
Now we’ve opened an opportunity for deeper, and yes, riskier communication and connection.
But it is worth it. It’s worth living a life that is not “fine.”