A perpetually three-year-old, red puppet recently asked a question that garnered almost two hundred million views. When Sesame Street’s Elmo posted on X, “Elmo is just checking in! How is everybody doing?” it created a muppet maelstrom that one commenter called a “trauma dump” that caused Sesame Street to tweet out mental health resources.
For most of us, “How are you?” is just a polite greeting instead of a question. We don’t actually answer with, “I’m concerned because I haven’t seen the three-legged squirrel at my bird feeder, my bunion is acting up, and sexual healing has been discontinued, my favorite NARS lipstick color, that is.” Especially as a response to a text, it isn’t the best forum to lay out your woes, but if your first instinct to answer is, “Not well,” that shouldn’t be buried under thumbs up for pickleball.
Unfortunately, we are living in an emotionally abbreviated world. Complex responses like, “I would like to come to your birthday celebration, but I feel fearful to leave the house and haven’t worn makeup or put on pants with a zipper in a month and worry it will be expensive to bring a gift and pay for the meal, but I will feel bad or judged by people better off than me if I don’t go,” are reduced to a unicorn in a party hat emoji.
The universal truth is that someone always has it better than you, and someone has it worse, so putting your own troubles in perspective is important. That said, no one else is in your painful-because-of-the-bunions shoes. Your life, feelings, pressures, anxieties, and concerns are unique to your existence. Clearly, life-threatening illnesses and discontinued lipstick colors are miles apart in the sea of discontent, but most know the feeling of getting hit with wave after wave of negative news without a chance to catch your breath. If the world is ruled by any moral code, then bad things should only happen to bad people. Or if the world is truly just random chaos — wouldn’t positive news be 50 percent and negative news be 50 percent, like the chances of red or black at roulette?
So do we, as concerned humanity, have the courage to ask, “How are you?” And genuinely want a response? And do we all have the courage and vulnerability to answer honestly? It may depend on the relationship and level of trust. In many forums, we are expected to be at the top of our game, and weakness is not to be admitted. But it is liberating to share our truth with another compassionate human being or perhaps to two million strangers.
Too often, we are distracted by the Oscar of the crowd (grumpy puppet, not naked gold statue) who responds with anger or victimhood no matter how hard someone is trying to help. It’s challenging to be around that figure, even for muppets. We all know those people we avoid because we don’t need any more negative energy. But what about the quiet ones, the strong ones, the nice ones, the ones on their own who may seem to be okay, or not. The ones faced with adversity yet ask themselves, “So what can I do about it?” Maybe a walk on the beach, a yoga class, going gluten-free, lighting a white candle, doing a black magic spell on the IRS.
So, I actually welcome you — not that I have the power of Sesame Street, mental health resources, or black magic (well, maybe) to answer, “How is everybody doing?”