I know it's essential to human communication to perform alot of the little rituals we do, but I can't help being annoyed with it. I have been experimenting lately with giving new answers to tired old ritualistic "smiley questions", as I've termed them. I would expect others have come across this frustration and have some rather good ideas for responses. If you do I would love to see them. So you understand where I'm coming from here's an example of a "smiley question" conversation in action.

Hi. How are you?
I'm good. How about you?
Oh, doing fine. What've you been up to?
Nothin' much. How about you?
Oh, nothin' at all. Just workin', ya know?
Whew, I hear ya. Where ya workin' now?
I'm at (insert customer service job here.) How about you?

Needless to say this could go on for at least 15 minutes. How's so and so blah blah and blah. It's kept up till there's one subject to grasp onto and talk in earnest about. I hate this, so I was thinking something along the lines of...

Hey! How are you?
Oh, well, I just got diagnosed with AIDS and my dog died. Plus the cancerous tumor they found in my brain yesterday is growing at an alarming rate. The doctors said I'm going to make history!! I'm pretty excited actually. How about you?

Maybe this is a little excessive but at least the questions would stop right there. The conversation would definitely either end, or go in a really intersting direction. Another idea...

Where are you working?
The morgue. It's kinda lonely, but the dead people have started to talk to me. They've told me all sorts of stuff about what it's like on the other side and how I should think about bringing a friend and I to join them. They're actually very talkative for corpses and the odd thing is their mouths don't move. It's like they talk in your head. I work real late and have the keys, so if you ever want to come and visit you're welcome. I could show you how to cut up a body and all sorts of neat uses for the different parts. Then we could go party with them like they asked.

Who knows how a person would react to that if you kept a straight face while saying it. The trick is to act like you're talking about your new bank job or something very normal. I'm banning "smiley questions" from my everyday language and planning to answer people with off the wall responses from now on. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas I'd love to see them. It's always nice to make life a little more interesting.

The Truth is definitely the way to go. When people ask me "how are you?" if it's been raining I reply "wet", if I'm late, I say "late", etc., only in those cases where I'm truly feeling superb do I answer as such.

If you say things like that that are only partly off the wall and if you say them pleasantly and bemusedly, then it usually prevents stagnated small talk along with not making the other person feel like an idiot for asking. And in general making someone feel like an idiot who has taken the time to find out about your day is generally a bad idea. Unless, perhaps, you just don't like the person, or are in a particularly bad mood, but personally, I think it's -always- a bad idea to make a person feel stupid for asking how you're doing.

But, there's also something else you can do; I was just thinking about this Saturday. Every time that you meet someone whom you care something about you should attempt to do two things:

  1. Exchange at least one piece of valuable information.
  2. Discuss when you can next meet each other.
The benefit of the first point is that you spread knowledge of something that's important to you. In my case, it might be something about GE foods or veganism or nuclear power plants. This is important in a day and age where all forms of media are largely controlled by corporations. We have no way of knowing if the news we receive are lies or part-truths. The best way of taking care of this is talking to one another. Plain and simple.

The benefit of the second point is, if it's truly someone you want to see again, to make it happen. So many times I've not seen a friend for extended periods of time though living in the same city simply because we didn't say, "so, whatcha' doin' next Saturday?". I don't know if it's so in other cultures, but I can vouch for (my part of) America and Germany, that not asking about the next meeting will usually end in only very tentative plans, "I'll call you", but if you take the initiative and ask, "What are you doing tonight?" then the person sees that you are truly interested and something'll come of it. Everyone likes to receive positive feedback even after years of friendship.

Now go forth and communicate.

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