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Thursday 10 November 2016

NZ Writing: How are you?

Posted in: NZ Writing
By Jern Ng - 7th October 2013

Most times it’s easier to just say ‘Fine.’ Most people aren’t listening anyway. Nowadays ‘How are you?’ has become such a reflex that everyone says it. You hear it from friends, colleagues, cashiers, teachers, family; why? Because that’s how we are trained to start a conversation, or greet someone in order to appear polite.

How many of us actually care about the answer? Sometimes we just expect to hear ‘Fine.’ or “I’m good.’ in reply, and the conversation dies. Call me cynical, but I doubt the supermarket attendant wants to hear about how your dog died or your boyfriend cheated on you or how much you enjoyed that Korean meal you had earlier. Everyone asks, but few people actually care what comes next, much less want to hear anything other than what is expected. After all, we’re all busy people leading our own busy lives with no time for any other busy people in our busy busy lives right?

I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of the above many times over the past 21 years. Being slightly introverted, I start a conversation the only way I know, by asking someone how he or she is. And when they answer ‘Fine.’, that’s the end of our brief repartee, if one could even call it that. I don’t want to hear more; most times I don’t care (unless if the other person is really attractive).

But if, on the off-chance that someone is having problems, I would stop. I would listen. And I would comfort them if I can. Even when I don’t care, I’m not going to just leave somebody to be sad and depressed alone, because I know how terrible that feels. I know how close you can get to taking your own life when you think that the life is worthless and no one cares about you. I know how it feels to see no reason for living. I know how it feels to be so completely alone that you just feel the weight of it crushing you, forcing the air out of your lungs; suffocating, and painful.

And thus, I listen. I listen because I know. Because I don’t want anyone to feel how I felt so many times over years. Sometimes, there are people who stay and listen, and I am thankful for them. But sometimes there aren’t, and I have to face my troubles alone. It was terrifying, trying to see the light when there is none. I survived, but how many people out there would? How many would choose the other path, towards death?

So, to all my friends out there, stop. And listen. I implore you. Someone’s life could very well depend on that few minutes of your presence. Think you’re worthless? You never know how much your mere presence could mean to someone. It shows them that they’re not alone. It shows them that there is someone who’s willing to stand by them, to lend them a shoulder to cry on, to pick them up where they’ve fallen so badly. Most importantly, it gives them a reason to live.

And that’s all that matters.

Previously published on ReMag at

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Jern Ng - 7th October 2013