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Aaron J. Webber

We Believe

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We believe many things

But we don’t believe in each other

 

We tell our kids they shouldn’t kill themselves

But support a world that tells them they’re worthless, stupid, helpless

 

We decry gun violence

But the biggest box-office successes all have people being shot

 

We love charity

But legislate it out of existence

 

We hate cops breaking the law

But tune in every week to police dramas where the bad boy cop breaks all the rules

 

We detest criminals

But do nothing to help those people before they become one

 

We love the idea of peace and harmony

But mock anyone who practices religion

 

We love the wild outdoors

But sacrifice our fellowmen to preserve it

 

We enjoy the stars, the animals, and the earth

Then do nothing to protect them

 

We condemn drug abuse

But we break down and destroy each other, so they have no other escape

 

We hate excess and extravagance

But tune in every day and give them our time and our adoration

 

We hate it when people won’t listen to us

But cry and lash out when someone proves us wrong

 

We can’t stand when people are fake

But flock to campaign rallies and politicians

 

We hate it when animals are abused and tortured

But cheer when we see people in the same situation

 

We have no patience when someone else isn’t as educated

But become offended when they try to teach us something new

 

We profess we don’t care about material things

Then protest when someone else has more than us

 

We boast that we don’t care what people think of us

Then post that opinion online and share and filter all day long

 

We flee the devastation of our homelands

But vote for the same policies when we get somewhere new

 

We believe we are garbage, useless, and boring

Then get offended when someone tells us we are

 

We protest that we are oppressed

Then celebrate when it happens to someone else

 

We complain about the reruns and remakes

But cry and tweet when something new is bad, boring, or offensive

 

We can’t stand those who believe in creationism

But don’t do anything about creating our own communities

 

We can’t stand those who believe in evolution

But refuse to evolve the bonds between each other

 

We paint those of other races as violent, prejudiced, or savage

Then act savagely when someone says the same about ours

 

We claim diversity is our strength

But mock any who think, act, or dress any different

 

We assign motive to our neighbors

Then require an hour to explain our own position

 

We believe we are intelligent enough to design the internet

but others are not smart enough to determine what is true or false on it

 

We believe mankind can steer itself to better, humane futures

But deny others the liberty to steer their own lives

 

We believe mankind is good

Then assume another’s motivation is evil

 

We believe mankind is naturally base

Then exhaust every option to excuse our own behavior

 

We believe that going to church is a commandment from God

Then easily forget that those laws apply outside the chapel

 

We believe many things

But we don’t believe in each other

Q&A With Aaron, February 2019

By | Writing | No Comments

All answers can be found on my Quora here.

Q: How can a fiction writer balance between contrived actions and natural unfolding?

A: The answer to this is simple (but hard in the execution):

It’s all in the writing.

We understand that fiction must be more believable than real life in order to be believable at all, so I understand the problem of making a more interesting “contrived action” believable when it wouldn’t otherwise happen, or it’s likelihood is…well… unlikely.

But improbable things happen all the time. The only thing that defines what’s “contrived” or “natural” in your book (or short story, poem, whatever you’re writing) is how you’ve written your characters, how you defined your world, and how the universe you created is being presented to the reader.

My recommendation to balance contrived actions and natural unfolding is to begin with your characters. Do you have well thought-out characters that are living, breathing people? You can test this by imagining hypothetical situations in which you can place your characters, and seeing how they would react. If you’re still not sure how they would react, then you still have some work to do on their development.

A reader will feel an action is contrived when it is unnatural to the character (not in their natural behavior) or “uncharacteristic” of them, or the world they inhabit.

A good writer will be able to present even the most fantastic of actions or events in such a way that the reader will pass through it un-phased.

If you know you’re building toward a big climax, or an important scene that you feel might come off as contrived, you must begin the preparations many chapters in advance. Lay breadcrumbs of your characters’ though process, habits, and personality so when you finally get to the big moment, both you and your reader go, “of course!”

 

Q: I am able to write very convincingly and confidently. However I am poor at doing the same when speaking, especially on the spot — how can I improve?

A: Practice. Practice. Practice.

How did you get so good at writing convincingly and confidently? I doubt you just sat down one day and realized you were a pro. I’m guessing it probably took years and years of practice and making mistakes, the same is true for public speaking.

The reason why it’s much harder to do with public speaking is because you can’t print out your performance and analyze it like you can a manuscript. Sure, you can record your voice, or make a video, but we are naturally averse to listening to ourselves, and we can’t objectively critique our voice or performance. Also, the “little things” in a performance, the pathos, the feelings, are lost in a recording.

What you need to do is get at least one or two other people, or even a large group if you have the opportunity, and just speak. The key to getting better, however, is to ask for critiques. Do this in two ways:

  1. Ask the people listening beforehand to listen for things that you can do better. What mistakes do you make regularly? What words trip you up? Do you have a nervous tick you repeat over and over again? While small things like that may not seem big to you, they can really stop an audience from listening to your message, instead of focusing on how you’re presenting.
  2. Ask those listening to tell you what your strength is. This doesn’t mean to get them to compliment everything you did well, it means to find your strength. Are you good at telling stories? Do you have impressive inflection? Do you channel emotion into your speaking? Whatever your strength seems to be, focus on that, make it the core of your speaking, then once you’re comfortable with that, branch into other areas.

For example: my nervous tick is putting my hands in my pockets, I didn’t notice it myself, but once someone pointed it out to me, I notice it each time I do it now and immediately stop. I find something else for my hands to do. On the other hand, I was told I’m very good at drawing an audience into somber or serious stories, that I use whispering very effectively. When they told me that, I used it more and more, and focused on it until it came naturally in my preparations.

If you can do these basic things, it should be just like improving any other talent or skill and can prepare any public address quickly, and speak confidently when put on the spot. It’s really no different.

 

Q: How does a good writer keep himself/herself from regurgitating the same ideas every time he/she writes?

A: There are lots of tips and tricks, hacks, and “one thing great writers do” in order to get great inspiration every time they sit down to write. But if you’re going to get any help with your problem (regurgitating the same ideas) you’ll need to realize something first:

No writer has ever avoided reusing old ideas. Go read the comments by C.S. Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Neil Gaiman, or any other author. They all have complained about writer’s block, reusing old ideas, or hating what they write. No author has sat down and had a bolt of pure inspiration every single time.

Anybody who says they have is lying.

I like to imagine Homer (in my opinion, the greatest author of all time) banging his head against a column because he didn’t have any good ideas for weeks.

But there is a simple solution that works, every time, and for everyone: write more.

Think about writing like using a pump or a hose after it has sat around unused for days, weeks, or even months. When you turn it on for the first time in a long time, there will be dirt, debris, air, and even living things that come spurting out, followed by dirty, warm water, which is finally followed by the cool clean water.

The longer you go without writing, the more the same ideas circulate in your head, you muse over a great line you wrote, or the event you’re trying to resolve. All the authors in the world got over this by sitting down, pumping out those old ideas, and kept writing until the new, cool, clean ideas finally appear on the page.

The longer you write, and the more frequently you write, the less time there will be for the dirty “build-up” to fill your mind. Instead, you will be a clean, fresh-flowing pump of ideas (not always good, but at least new).

 

The Power of Pressure

By | Writing | 3 Comments

On Sunday, January 20, 2019, at around midnight, I submitted a short story of mine to the Chicago Tribune short story contest.

Today, I was going through a folder I take with me to work, and found a note, scribbled in the margin of a page I had ripped out and forgotten. The note simply said, “Do the short story contest.” With a thick underline beneath it. The note was written about a month before the deadline at the end of January.

The story I submitted had been floating around in my head for months. It began as absent-minded notes and scribbles in a notebook I take with me to church and on vacation. It was a fun story that I enjoyed thinking about when times got boring, and with so many other projects I had to think about, I was comfortable leaving this one in the margins of my imagination until I had finished the other ones.

I didn’t expect it would be done any time soon, let alone this month.

When I heard about the contest toward the end of December, the story that immediately popped into my head was this one. It came so clear and felt like such a “duh” moment that I didn’t question it. Whereas I spent months on my other manuscripts fussing and bothering about plot holes, dialogue, and chapter length. This store seemed to just pour out of me and onto the page. And when it was finished, I knew it was finished. It felt complete.

That was the power of pressure.

Granted, the pressure was mainly of my own creation, since nobody knew I was submitting to this contest besides myself, and my wife.

But it was this pressure that forced me to write when I felt like doing anything else.

What would happen if I missed the deadline? Nothing. I would wake up and go to work like I usually do. But my laser-focus on completing this short story would disappear. When I say “nothing” would happen, I mean exactly that. The story would not get finished. It would stay nothing, pushed to the bottom of the priority list until years from now.

Having “nothing” to show for all my hard work was a scary thought.

In life, there are no grace periods for the important things, there are no extended due dates. You either get it right, or you don’t.

If I missed this entry deadline, that’s it, I can’t win and I can’t lose, I’m simply there, doing nothing.

If I screw up my daughter’s childhood years, there’s no extension to try and get it right. She either grows up right, or ends up a mess.

If I wake up one day when I’m thirty and realize I’m not who or where I want to be, I can’t ask for a little more time to get it right, or try again. I have to work with what I’ve done so far and make the best of it. Even if it’s nothing.

The world we live in is designed to distract us, to draw our attention from what we want to do, what we should do, and focus it on what someone else is doing, or wants us to do. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on who we’re being distracted by, or from.) But the problem is that a majority of those drawing our attention today prefer us to sit in front of our screens for hours instead of anything else. They don’t care what you’re missing, or who you’re becoming, because as long as you sit there, they make money. There are thousands and thousands of articles and blogs about this online, so I always feel as if I beat the dead horse to a pulp when I bring this up.

I saw a quote this morning, actually, that said: “Life is too short to waste time debating politics in online forums.”

I fall into the same trap.

That’s why it felt so unexpectedly refreshing to have the pressure to have me create something for myself, by myself, and of myself. It made me ignore the distractions and sit down for myself, not somebody else.

I sat on my chair.

At my table.

Typed on my computer.

Using the power I pay for.

To write a story from my ideas.

That would fulfill my goals, and make me a better person.

Not somebody else’s goals.

It makes me sick sometimes that I work all day long, to pay for all these things, just to use them in the late hours of the night to become an expert on someone else’s opinion on why such-and-such film was snubbed at the last awards ceremony.

The pressure to focus on my own life, my own goals, beat out the pressure to glide through life.

Nothing written here is revelatory. Everybody knows, or has at least heard, of setting goals for yourself, rewarding yourself, etc. etc. etc.

Anybody who has worked a day in their life knows what having a deadline is like.

But the more I write, and the more stories I submit to contests and to publications, the more ideas pop into my head, and I can’t help but wonder:

“How many of these ideas will I carry with me into the grave? When the deadline for sharing these with the world has passed, what will I have been able to accomplish with them?”

That thought terrifies me, and it scares me enough to forget the distractions and do something about it.

 

Stop Marginalizing Yourself

By | Personal | No Comments

When we confine ourselves to groups based on natural tendencies or talents, we limit our opportunities and hurt ourselves.

***

“Oh I’m a creative so I can’t work on that!” “I’m a numbers guy, I’m no good at being creative.” I’ve heard every variation of these phrases, either in self-depreciating ways, or in ways to excuse bad behavior or to get out of work. My advice: stop it. It’s not helpful to you, and it’s annoying to any intelligent person.

Scientifically, this division of creative and analytical people into two groups is known as brain lateralization. Let’s begin with some solid background research and data that isn’t a Facebook post, or LinkedIn study, but instead provided by our friends at Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia: “Some popularizations oversimplify the science about lateralization, by presenting the functional differences between hemispheres as being more absolute than is actually the case.”

The article continues:

“The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception, and artistic ability are represented bilaterally.” (Emphasis added)

Finally, “Terence Hines states that the research on brain lateralization is valid as a research program, though commercial promoters have applied it to promote subjects and products far outside the implications of the research. For example, the implications of the research have no bearing on psychological interventions such as EMDR and neurolinguistic programming, brain-training equipment, or management training.”

Source: Wikipedia, Lateralization of Brain Function

What does that mean for us normal people?

It means that, while some parts of the brain are focused on some tasks, the entire brain is required to analyze data and be artistic. It means that our brain isn’t telling us we’re not good at certain things. It’s other people. It’s ourselves.

It means that no matter what we like, or prefer to do, we are capable of performing artistically or analytically. It means that while we may have a talent for Excel, we can still draw or write really well, and vice-versa.

Not only is it not good for us professionally or personally to marginalize ourselves, it is annoying and unprofessional when we do this to others.

I can list a number of times when someone refused to do work because they were “a creative,” or someone was told they shouldn’t do a certain task because they were a “math guy, not a designer.”

The first example can be chalked up to classic laziness, (which came as no surprise to me, considering the person in question). But there is absolutely no excuse for the second example. How dare we decide what someone is or isn’t good at without giving them a chance? How dare we refuse to give someone an opportunity to try something new, or apply their talents?

Stop doing this to yourself, but most importantly, stop doing this at all! It has no basis real science, and it wouldn’t help anyone if it did!

This is a symptom of our modern society as a whole: our need to identify with some group, no matter what, removes possibilities from our lives and forces us into unwarranted and unproductive conflict.

(This post appeared originally on thelatest.com)

Modern Capitalist Feudalism

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Any mechanic who suggests you buy a new car because your spark plug is broken is running a scam and definitely doesn’t have your best interest at heart. The same can be said for our modern markets. 
Say what you will about capitalism today – it has its issues big and small – but, it has also been the engine of incredible change and wealth generation for all classes of society. Naturally, nothing is perfect and talks about improvements occur, and should be encouraged.

However, anybody who suggests a full replacement of the system because of problems here and there definitely doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and probably have some ulterior motive, like a bad mechanic.

Any honest person hoping for a better world will admit there are problems with today’s markets beyond typical crony capitalism. But, the mistake comes in suggesting a complete replacement of the engine when all we might need is just a tune-up.

I consider myself an honest man, and the problem I see is that modern markets have evolved to become Capitalist Feudalism (a term I made up for this piece, thank you). And, if you’re familiar with how feudalism works, I hope you would agree.

You can’t use the internet anywhere without bowing to Comcast.
You can’t analyze data or have any presence online without paying homage to Google.
You can’t have a social presence without submitting to Facebook.
You can’t sell anything without dealing with Amazon.

And that’s just for individuals. Imagine how much more hard it becomes to operate as a company.
The fact that companies, governments and people have to defer to these companies in order to conduct business, access sites using equipment that doesn’t actually belong to them, and surrender their personal data and security in order to post pictures of their kids, does not sound like a free society to me.

And for companies, that’s not competition, it’s feudalism.

Something needs to be done. If left unchecked, I foresee a world in which we wake up in our Amazon beds, eat our Google cereal, ride in our Facebook cars to our Amazon jobs and pay our Google taxes to pay for Comcast infrastructure.

Really though, the problem isn’t really with the markets (naturally, these companies will want to grow and absorb others to maximize profits; it’s in their nature). But, it’s with those who support the current status quo, or support the current form of the markets, because the only suggestion coming from the opposition is a complete engine replacement.

Let’s get on the same page, please?

Can we recognize that capitalism has created the greatest growth of wealth never before possible?
Can we recognize that there are problems inherent in the system?
Can we agree that recognizing those problems and wanting to address them means we do not want to buy a whole new car?
Can I argue that breaking them up would be a good thing for the world, without being called a socialist?

To quote Scott Galloway from L2inc, “We don’t break them up because they’re evil […] we don’t break them up because they avoid taxes […] we don’t break them up because they destroy jobs […] we break them up because we are capitalists.”

(This article appeared originally on thelatest.com)

Joseph Stalin made me a PB&J

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If Joseph Stalin made me a sandwich, would I say thank you? Would I compliment him on his sandwich-making abilities if it were a good sandwich? If it were the best sandwich I’d ever had, would I throw it away and claim it wasn’t?

Of course you can ask this question of any distasteful, mass-murdering, dirt-bag. I would have used Hitler, but that’s a bit played out at this point, isn’t it? Besides, old Joe Stalin killed more people, so the question should be more powerful.

I can tell you my answer: I don’t know.

But that’s the point. Especially about someone I don’t know enough about to make any kind of judgement about how I would react in that situation: I haven’t predetermined my reaction. I haven’t automatically decided if I would throw it in his face, or ignore him. I admit maybe I should, and I probably would (If I know myself well enough). But I haven’t made up my mind beforehand.

What if we were to walk the streets of San Francisco (or better yet Portland, Oregon) and ask the people on the streets if how’d they react if Donald Trump made them a sandwich. (You could have asked the same question about Obama to people in, say… Texas, but let’s keep it in the present for now).

Can we predict with relative certainty how a majority of the participants would react? I would say so. (You’re welcome to disagree).

The problem with today’s world is that we’re so set on choosing sides, making sure that our side is “right” that we are willing to disregard any good thing, any victory, that comes from the other side. People in every political party, in every walk of life, are susceptible to the mistake of prejudging the actions of others, and automatically assigning motive and morality to actions, good or bad.

I mention this because the (fingers crossed) impending peace with North Korea is definitely a good thing. I don’t think there is a single honest person in the north or the south of that peninsula who doesn’t want peace with each other. This is a good thing, no matter what others say about it.

Isn’t that annoying? Am I the only one growing tired of the hecklers and the naysayers?

Don’t get me wrong, there are things Trump has done that I don’t like. But the fact that talking heads and pundits continue to make the issue about them, about him, about how it can’t possibly be as good a thing as we believe because of who is behind it, proves that they’re not in it for us, they’re in it for themselves. It’s not healthy for us as a nation.

Our democracy didn’t fall apart, as promised, when Trump was elected.

Millions of people didn’t die when we repealed the mandate for the Affordable Care Act.

Maybe I have a better view of him because I don’t have Twitter? But it seems every other day there is a news story about something the president tweeted, and not about what he did. What if he didn’t have Twitter? Would the country’s perception of him and the things he does change?

Maybe we should remember that actions speak louder than words.

Portrayal is not Perpetuation

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Depiction is not endorsement, acknowledgement is not approval, and reflections are not acceptance. I could go on, but hopefully the point is already clear. The fact that some people need this explained to them is a sad fact of today’s society.

Let’s pull up a recent, but not too sensitive topic to begin: Xmen Apocalypse.

In 2016, this movie started controversy before it ever entered theaters because of one billboard.
Apparently showing a scene from the movie in which the bad guy was acting…well…bad, is bad?
The complaint is that it was depicting, and therefore perpetuating violence against women. The fear was that young people will look up at the billboard and think, “Y’know, that looks like fun.”

Sound like someone else you know?

It sounds like Christians on the far right complaining that gay characters on TV will make their children gay.

It sounds like far-left radicals attacking Dave Chappelle for transgender jokes because they think it incites anti-trans violence.

It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that portraying something, and actively campaigning for it, are two completely different things.

It just takes a five-minute break to think about the situation. The problem isn’t your political stance, it’s a lack of good judgment and logical thinking. This applies to everyone, no matter your political or moral leanings.

To help illustrate the problem let me ask a question:

What if there was a blockbuster movie released this summer (maybe a Marvel movie?) in which the main antagonist was an incredibly evil, merciless, and mass-murdering warmonger and he/she also happened to be gay?

What would the response be?

Would those on the left lose their minds because Hollywood was trying to depict all gay people as evil?

Would those on the right still take up arms because it’s just another example of Hollywood ramming their politically-correct agenda down our throats?

Or would most people realize that movies are just a snapshot of the culture at the time, and to be more believable they will include gay characters, because they also exist in real life. (And like it or not, there might just be good and bad homosexuals, just as there are good and bad heterosexuals).

To wrap this all up, here is the most recent example I could find:

This video review of Farcry 5 released this month. I personally love the Farcry series, and the fifth is no exception.

But it is mind-boggling that those in this video are so hung up on the fact that the game portrays an “Obama-hatin’ conservative” as one of the good guys.

To these reviewers it is impossible that anyone right of them on the political spectrum could possibly be a good person, that he could possibly have any motivation for being conservative other than racism.

Does the game portray those from all walks of life? Yes. Does it make any comment on whether those views are right or wrong? No. Instead it accurately represents the people that actually exist today.

Those on the right think the same about those left of themselves.

We don’t see each other as humans, as brothers and sisters anymore.

We’re all rivals, all competitors.

And that’s the problem.

Letter to a Friend

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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve taken up calligraphy as a very minor pastime.

I say minor. I’m not doing it to show off. Obviously.

I can’t remember what got me into it initially, probably a boring afternoon when I was looking for something to do… next thing you know I have a pile of books, a pack of calligraphy pens next to me, an open inkwell, and an inclined table specifically used for calligraphy (imagine those old tables you see in medieval movies with monks writing painstakingly slow manuscripts of scripture. Same thing essentially)

I admit I have slowed down recently, only breaking out the ink and nibs every once in a while for a special occasion. But I enjoy it no less than when I initially began.

This is one of my earlier attempts (probably about a year and a half ago) of a birthday card for a friend. I had spent so much time on making sure the name was right that I ran out of time on the actual letter, which is why it looks like the rest was written with normal pen in a rush… which it was.

I use heavy parchment paper when I practice, and you can see the true color in the first photo after it has been folded and sealed with hot wax and a “W” for Webber.


My normal penmanship has improved since this time, since it is terrible form to have calligraphy and bad handwriting on the same page! So don’t look at anything else besides the name itself.

The only thing I like about it, now that I look back, is the “N” at the beginning. The other letters are all out of proportion, and much to thick for the height at which I made them. But, hey, what can you expect for a first try at a letter for someone I don’t even talk to anymore?

What is Democracy to You?

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A century ago, this question would win me weird looks and scoffs. Today though, it seems like we need to ask this question. Why? Whether people are willfully ignorant or deceptively clever, the definition and meaning behind what a democracy is or is not continues to change.

Let’s be honest: if you answered the question with anything other than “a system of government in which the citizens exercise control over policy and leadership,” then you’re incorrect, and you’re not alone.

Many use the word “democracy” to suggest wearing blue jeans and listening to NPR is democratic. They throw “undemocratic” as an insult to those whose ideas, morals, or policies don’t line up with their personal version of what democracy looks like.

Republicans are undemocratic because they limit illegal immigration.

Democrats are undemocratic because they shut down speakers on college campuses.

While insults may be warranted, “undemocratic” isn’t appropriate.

Let us remind ourselves that while behavior may be immoral or abhorrent, unless they’re staging a military coup it isn’t “undemocratic.”

In his famous book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes this confusion in detail:
“You can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings: The feeling I mean is, of course, that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.”

“We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of democracy in the strict sense of that word, the political arrangement so called […] And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense […] is the fittest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political democracies from the face of the earth.”

He continues:
“Allow no pre-eminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser, or better, or more famous, or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them down to a level; all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals.”

For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.”

Doesn’t that describe our world today?

On a more personal note, I remember a quote given by Tom Hanks, according to Fox News: “…the truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen,” he told Tarts. “There are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them.”

It seems he took the problem of mixing “democracies” and “democratic behavior” and took it even one step further by confusing “American” with “American behavior.” (This is all beside the fact that America isn’t a democracy in the first place, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

We must be careful in our word choice. Not because they are harmful or dangerous, but because willingly or accidentally confusing the meaning of words and concepts makes it easier for the “bad guys” on both sides of the aisle to take advantage of the ambiguity. Be specific, and particular, in your vocabulary, and you’ll be able to identify those who use the confusion to their advantage.

How are you?

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The following is an excerpt from work in progress: Annals of an Empire.

I remember one thing that I found particularly interesting during my Earth history classes at the Imperial Academy.

I had seen that across most all of the old cultures that, to an extent, still persist on Earth today, the form of greeting took the same manifestation.

In essence, an individual would inquire as to the passing of the day, or health, of another, usually along the lines of (and forgive me for my terrible accent) “How are you?” or “How is it going?” referring to the day. And do you know how the other would respond? (This is the funny part in a quite depressing way) They would answer with positive salutation, regardless of how they were or what events had already transpired that day. 
 
And do you know what else would happen? The questioner would actually grow agitated, and indeed become quite uncomfortable, if the answer was anything than the expected answer, positive or negative, but most particularly if it were negative.
Imagine asking after someone’s health and growing irate if they actually answered honestly!
            
A better example of the hypocrisy, pride, and greed of the Old System surely cannot be found! To feign concern, love, or even the slightest attention towards someone, then resenting that same person when they, in reality in need of consolation, healing, and help, actually required it of you!
            
Most assuredly this tiny example of a cultural norm is a symptom of the larger sickness. The increasing divide between what a person thought they were expected to be, and what they actually were, made it socially unacceptable to bare aspects of their lives, good or bad, that did not conform to external expectations.
-Jules Ferrero, Imperial Auditor.