Student Question

During one full day, every time somebody asks, "How are you?" or "How's it going?" stop and actually give a complete, truthful answer. What happens when you respond to a polite question in an honest way? Listen to how people respond, and also watch their body language. What can you conclude? Be sure to include elements you learned in this chapter (idealization, Thomas Theorem) in your response.

Expert Answers

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This seems like an interesting experiment and I wish you luck with your responses.

The key is to recall the theories mentioned. In the Thomas theorem, the point is is to believe that "if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." You know that the person inquiring how you are doing is just offering a pleasant greeting, akin to saying hello. By providing a truthful answer on your health or general well-being, you are defining the surface question as a real question and acting accordingly.

Similarly, in sociology, idealization involves projecting or believing that our actions embody the values of an ideal culture, rather than serving selfish motives.

By assuming your asker really cares about you, you are suggesting that mutual concern, rather than lazy conversation, is occurring. You might want to craft an answer that you offer consistently to everyone so that you have a control for your experiment. Perhaps you could prepare a positive, but seemingly truthful, response to see how your respondents behave. Rather than merely saying you are "fine," elaborate as though you assumed the person really wanted details. Alternatively, if you think you will be able to experiment with a lot of people, have two answers—one positive and one negative—to see if you can assess changes in others' body language as they first receive an answer they didn't expect and then listen to either a positive or negative answer. Be sure both sound truthful, though.

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