Think twice before replying

It’s week three. You’re tired. I get it. Nothing has gone inherently wrong, but then again, nothing extraordinary, nothing remarkable, nothing categorically ‘lucky’ has happened to you – so what’s there to rave about?

“Hey! How are you?”, your friend asks. “Yeah, not bad thanks”, you reply.

It’s a standard response.

Soon, no doubt, the conversation moves onto juicier affairs… what went on at Timepiece last night / the girl in Birks who fell asleep with the shower running creating a re-enactment of Titanic / the guy in your seminar who loudly proclaimed that the £45 textbook was a (*quote*) “gross injustice” / how you drunkenly chased a badger down Forum hill… or was it the other way around? Either way, you probably never think back to that inanimate conversation starter of “not bad” where it all began. Having made your position in relation to how bad you might have felt, clear, you’ve probably got it out your system, and by the time the next person comes along, you may even reply “yeah, good thanks mate”. But that in itself, is largely irrelevant: the point is, you started off by talking in negatives.

Oh so this is an article on negative talk, right? Someone’s shooting sunshine and rainbows out of their fountain (*of gold*) pen.

I’m not here to have a go at you. I just think it’s interesting: you began by telling someone, not that you’re “alright” or “okay” but specifically that you’re “not bad”. In fact, that’s not inherently negative – it is in the grammatical sense but the actual meaning is neutral. But what it suggests is that your point of comparison is “bad” – that’s the thing you’re saying you’re not, as if that’s the obvious assumption someone might make.

Are we a society that looks around seeing a whole load of miserable people? Do we rephrase the question “how are you?” to mean “how bad are you feeling right now?” and answer in relation to how bad we have felt recently? And if so, why are we feeling so bad? You might think I’m off my rocker, picking on the nuances of conversation – I get that you probably didn’t think twice when you said “not bad” – but that there is the giveaway: we’re not even thinking about it; this negative is springing from our subconscious.

Of course, if this is happening when you’re not even thinking about it, it can feel like there’s not much you can do to change it. But next time someone asks you how you are, try a different response. If you’re “not bad”, then don’t bring in the negativity. Save the “bad” for when you really feel that way (and as your subconscious suggests, it’s happening more than we’d like anyway). If you’re feeling “alright” or even “good” or “great”, then say so – there’s clearly enough “bad” being felt amongst us to create this curious point of comparison that we don’t need to state the fact that on this lucky occasion, we’re actually (for once) “not bad”. Just something to think twice about.

Emma Pudge

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