Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017


HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.




Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”


“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.


CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights”

  1. Littlesundog Says:

    This is a practice I have long used since my days in customer service – I watch body language and listen to how people say things. The best place to start is while shopping. As I check out my groceries I’ll ask the clerk, “How is your day going?”. Most never smile or offer more than, “I’m fine”. If it’s not convincing (facial expression or tone), I light-heartedly say, “Well, that wasn’t very convincing!”. Almost every time, that breaks the ice and the person will tell me a little bit more about why they are not OK – AND I RESPOND!! We all have the ability to observe and care enough to ask – if indeed we care about our fellow man. And responding kindly is a great act of love. 🙂

  2. Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.”


    After Kay, when people asked me, “HOW ARE YOU?” I usually didn’t answer. I couldn’t

    Even now, I don’t like the question.

    When I ask “how are you?” I REALLY want to know,
    but most people do not.

    Xx kiss from Duluth.

    PS. so proud of your winning entry. Please send it to me. I clicked all clickers and could not find!

    • Like you, I really want to know.

      Didn’t it just add to your pain, that question of “How are you?”

      My winning entry has not been published yet. When it is, I’ll post about it and try to remember to send the link.

  3. I’m far from fine but hope to use a couple more clean shirts. Thanks for asking. I have a clue you’re fine from your upbeat writing.

  4. Sue Ready Says:

    thanks for the insightful piece on silence and the need to stand up and be heard when others are silent and taking the time to really listen.

  5. Jackie Says:

    Small world…Nora Inerny Purmort’s Husband Aaron was my Nephew’s best friend, and my son Brice used to work with Aaron. I babysat Scarlett so Brice and Jenny could attend Aaron’s funeral. Nora has a wonderful way of being quite frank with feelings and being authentic in how we present our feelings. She is helping a lot of women out there.., that’s a good thing.

  6. I have started learning at least one thing that a person is passionate about/loves and start a conversation that way (i.e. kids, fur babies, interests, etc.). For instance, did you take (pet’s name) to the dog park? I am with you in listening and then getting engaged. Thanks so much for the much needed reminder! Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

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