There are three words that share absolutely nothing about a person’s state of being. These words which create an empty, meaningless phrase are “I am fine.” What exactly does that mean, and who could ever justify this type of response? The often overlooked phrase serves its purpose of being elusive as the person offering the statement is hoping for an end to the conversation and the inquiry’s digging.
The issue with the general usage of this three-word response is that we have all become inoculate to its effect. We accept generalities, like this as if they are filled with important data. I mean, what is ‘fine?’ Is it a physical description, like sexy or attractive? Is it a grade or measurement such as the density of a person’s hair? Does the term conjure a norm for emotional stability – somewhere between ‘This life sucks’ and ‘if I were any better, I would be a twin’? Frankly, the term seems to have only one useful purpose – to tell the audience absolutely nothing.
If you want to head off a long line of questioning about anything, just respond with the non-conditional ‘fine.’ There is seemingly nowhere to go from that point. Just ask my children, as this is their standard response to anything I ask them. How are your grades? Fine. How was basketball, band, or martial arts? Fine. How are your friends doing? Fine. How was the visit to your grandparents’ house? Fine. How is your sixth toe and third row of teeth? Fine. And I am guilty of accepting their answers and leaving them alone – but I wonder often if they really want me to push a little harder, just to prove that I really care about their answers, their grades, activities, friends, or grandparents.
Let’s consider the danger of stopping at ‘fine.’ What if something is wrong or at least needs to be discussed? If we become so anesthetized to this response, then we may miss a narrow window to discover that we are truly needed. Crises happen to and around all of us. So the help that we are able to provide, need to provide should be clearly stated. We should carry a posture of concern and availability. But if we are programed to both respond ‘fine’ or accept that answer from others, then the pain, disappointment, fear, doubt, joy and celebration that the person in front of us could suffer neglect.
The charge I offer to each of us is to dig a little deeper the next time we hear this three-word phrase. Make sure that we understand what is really being said, or not being said. Let’s prepare ourselves to be the person available to make sure that everything is actually ‘fine.’ Press just a little harder and pay a little more attention to them – just in case things are actually anything but ‘fine.’