Nigerians and the “How Are You?” Question
How are you is probably one of the most overused sentences in the conversation dictionary – perhaps it’s not just a Nigerian thing. How are you can be asked in various ways around the world ‘how ya doing’, ‘how are ya’ ‘howdy’ etc., but I’m focusing in Nigeria based on my experience.
I recall an experience when a pastor I really like came to my church. He asked me ‘how are you’ and I said ‘fine’. What followed after that was a huge feeling of regret, wishing I could go back in time. This feeling followed me for about a few days as I pondered on whether I should message him an essay pouring out all my feelings – from fear to sadness, to excitement.
I don’t know what it is about me that has made answering ‘fine’ robotically to a question of ‘how are you’ the status quo. Is it how I was raised? Is it the Nigerian factor?
Mental Health Day was on 10 October, just a few days ago, and today, I considered my own status as I remembered the above scenario which occurred months ago. When a question of ‘how are you’ is asked, I feel like if you’re not reclining on a chair in some psychologist’s office, or caught up in a moment of passion and emotions, then you definitely will answer robotically.
“I’m fine”, “I’m good”, you churn out robotically when you know good and well your demons are having a field day in the back of your mind. Theres a series of issues heaped on your shoulders, and you’re struggling to love yourself while loving life. You look at the person who has asked the question to you as they say it with a smile. You want to tell them stuff, like how you wonder if you’ll ever get your life together.
How you wonder why your finances just don’t add up, or what the status of your relationship with your family will be a few years down the track. How you wonder why you keep making bad decisions, why you keep sinning. Why you’ve done a particular act so much that you’re numb to the aftereffects that seem not to be manifesting as you thought they would. How you struggle with your body image and perception of yourself, how you struggle with your thoughts, words and actions. How you feel drowned in the midst of others, feeling dumb and sentenced to a life of mediocrity.
Perhaps you’d also tell them how you don’t know what you’ll do after university and you’re worried. How everyone else seems to have things figured out, how you feel yourself gravitating towards art but you don’t know how to cultivate this interest further. How every day you’re scared of dying some horrible death, and you just wish sometimes religion didn’t exist because you’re tired of being scared of people around you suddenly disappearing and you being banished to a lake of fire somewhere.
But no, you look back at the person, equally smiling, and belt out a sometimes high pitched ‘I’m fine’ or ‘fine’, knowing that’s clearly not the case.
And you know what, even the person asking is a victim of their conditioning – they’re asking out of courtesy. It seems that unless you’ve done something really concerning, or perhaps have a health problem, or maybe you just lost someone, people don’t genuinely ask the question. Most of the time, it’s just small talk. I’m sure if you decided to pour out a whole rant on them stemming from that singular question, they’d break into a sweat, adjust their attire then quietly scoot away from the weirdo who has now materialised in front of them.
Then again, sometimes you don’t bother saying the truth because you know the person couldn’t possibly help you with any of your issues. Heck, they’re probably facing their own demons too.
I remember at high school we had a day for mental health, known as ‘r u ok’ day. It was quite nice. Basically, the point is, we all need to be sure what we’re asking. We need to care more, press more for the truth – especially me.