The other day a classmate who I know by name, but don't know well asked me on the way into class, "How are you?"
Forgetting that "How are you?" is usually just a greeting in our culture and isn't really a question, I answered, "Well, all three of my kids are sick today, but one of my best friends is going to have a baby any minute now, so that sort of makes up for it. . . how about you?"
He gave me a slightly funny look, but then handled it graciously (he's one of those people who gives a "this guy will be a good pastor some day" vibe and in fact reminds me of a friend who is a really good pastor.) His response was totally appropriate, but it made me think about my response. I realized after I blurted my whole spiel out that he was probably just saying hello.
I wonder why I do that? I almost never just say, "Good, how about you." like a normal person does. I always say something like, "Glad it's rain not snow! How about you?" or "Tired, but glad to be here." Sometimes, I'll even answer with something like, "Ask me when I'm more awake/tomorrow/after finals." I do reciprocate the inquiry, just in case you were wondering if I just use it as an opportunity to unload my life on the other person.
I think perhaps it's because when I ask, "How are you?" I'm expecting an honest answer, not just some polite response. If I just wanted to politely greet someone, I'd say, "Good morning."
It's a little annoying that somewhere along the line, the meaning of "how are you?" changed and now when you ask someone how they are, you have to qualify it with, "Really. .. " or something like that. It makes it hard to ask someone how they actually are. You're sort of stuck on the surface.
I don't think there's really anything we can do to fix this. It just is what it is. And I don't think I'm going to stop answering honestly. Do me a favor though. . . next time we bump into each other and I ask, "How are you?" remember that I mean it.