In the canon of small talk, few responses to the age-tested question, “how you doin’?” will ever rival “good.” The word is so vague, so generic and yet so powerfully sufficient. It doesn’t have to be true, it doesn’t require creativity, and it never, ever commands a follow up question about the state of being good.
However, a new response to the most common pleasantry has announced its intention to unseat the incumbent in a way that is so brash, so self-important, and so woebegotten that it might just have a chance.
Never has the world seen so versatile a response. Witness the myriad ways the word can function in common conversation.
~Hey, man, how you doin?
Yeah, you know, busy. The kids are both in sports, I’m working on my MBA online, and my wife just launched a website.
~Oh my goodness! I haven’t seen you in so long! How have you been?
Ugh, busy! I’m on this diet, so I’m constantly meal prepping, I just got engaged, and my parents are getting divorced, so that’s a nightmare. Just busy.”
~We’re heading out for happy hour. You in?
Thanks, but I’m so busy. I have to finish up these financials for the new quarter, my mother needs me to set up her new phone, and I have to get to the gym.
In each scenario, we have to assume the first speaker didn’t intend to receive a busyness resume as part of the response. In the first, our old stalwart “good” would have sufficed because the pleasantry had been asked and answered. In the second, because of the reference to time elapsed in between seeing each other, “good” would suffice but would necessitate a brief qualifier. In the final, most egregious, example, an alternative would be “I can’t” or “Sorry. Maybe next time.”
So while the context may change, what remains constant is a growing cult of folks who kneel at the altar of busy. For some, being busy is just how they operate. They thrive on stress and deadlines, they don’t understand how the rest of the world can be so utterly relaxed, and they often wear their busyness like a badge to be shined every so often. For others, being busy is more a state of mind, a way to combat the often mundane, task-oriented days which lead one to the next.
And then there’s the true cult of personality: the busyness is my affliction group.
As if being busy is something that is perpetually happening to them, the cult of busy can often be seen wearing ostentatious buttons that read: Ask me about my busy! Harried and often out of breath, the afflicted seek out opportunities to remind the world how busy they are and dare us to compete, task-for-task, with their busyness.
But busy is not an affliction.
It didn’t befall us unawares, and we aren’t unwitting accomplices to its crimes. Busy doesn’t sneak up on us, tap us on the shoulder, and whisper, “you’re it!” We don’t inherit busy, we don’t live with busy, and we don’t survive busy. There aren’t 5K walks devoted to busy. Busy won’t present with a rash and a low-grade fever.
Be mindful that a busyness arm-wrestling contest only serves to diminish the importance of each other’s versions of busy. In any conversation, the busyness scoreboard should read 0 to 0.
Because busy is not an affliction.