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Midwestern politeness can get in the way
Nikki Eining CSW-PIP, QMHP
Nikki Eining CSW-PIP, QMHP

Midwest Culture is unique. We “America’s Heartlanders” are known for our outdoor hobbies, farming, winter survival strategies, hard work and country living. We are also known for our politeness. It is at times an autopilot response to hold a door open, greet another with a smile, drop off treats for a neighbor or when running into someone familiar ask, “how are you?” How often have we asked, “how are you” and heard the answer, “good” or “fine” or even answered this question ourselves this way. 

Unfortunately, “Midwestern Polite” has also created a belief that if we truly answer the question, “how are you” with honesty, we are burdening others. For this reason, we often answer “good” or “fine” when maybe in fact, we are not. This is called passive communication.

Passive communication is when we do not express our feelings or needs, do not believe our feelings or needs matter equally to others, or often we find ourselves apologizing for things. Over time this passive communication style often leads to misunderstanding, anger or even resentment.

This is where it is vital for us to understand emotional and social wellness skills. To learn that every single one of us as humans has feelings and that this is normal. The more we ignore these feelings the more we impact our overall health. 

Having the skills to be able to truly answer the question, how are you, requires emotional wellness skills. The skills of recognizing one’s feelings, understanding those feelings, labeling them, expressing them and regulating them. This skill, known as the “RULER” skill is an acronym for the five evidence-based skills of emotional intelligence (recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating) founded by psychologist Marc Brackett out of Yale University. This skill is not a skill we are born with. This skill provides a sense of understanding and control of what is going on within us. Emotional wellness skills aid in our overall ability to manage stress, communicate effectively and manage conflict which supports our overall physical wellness.

So, the next time a kind Midwesterner asks, “How Are You?” I encourage you to be honest. I encourage you to use the skills of checking in to recognize how you really are feeling, labeling it and expressing it to that person asking. The other wonderful value we South Dakotans have is showing up for one another. We are not a burden. We are wonderful Midwestern neighbors who show up for each other. Let’s continue to work on defining and modeling that “Midwest Nice” as honest and authentic support. 

Richard P. Holm, MD passed away in March 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is founder of The Prairie Doc®. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® ® library, visit and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook. Nikki Eining CSW-PIP, QMHP Outpatient Clinical Mental Health Therapist Avera Medical Group Behavioral Health Brookings Clinic in Brookings, SD.