What do you do when you notice someone in the grocery store whom you haven’t seen in years? Maybe you’re at the mall on a Saturday and by glancing into a store, you see someone you know. Have you ever deliberated the situation?
[Should I go and talk to that person, or should I just pretend not to notice and walk away?]
In a few seconds, webs of logic and a flood of memories can stream through your mind, weighing the options:
“If I quickly glance away, he might not see me. I just don’t feel like talking today.”
“Oh my goodness! I haven’t seen her in absolute ages! I want to say ‘Hi.’”
Perhaps you call out that person’s name in a desperate attempt to greet him or her. Maybe she doesn’t hear you, you feel embarrassed and just forget about trying.
Or if that person is walking in your direction, and is someone you haven’t talked to in years, maybe your memory will recall incidents in which that person hurt you. Or maybe you think that person never liked you much, so you immediately feel self-conscious, your stomach does a quick flip-flop and your face turns red, you pick up a box of cake mix with flustered hands and pretend to scour the ingredients, complete with a deliberate frown.
How do you greet people?
I’ve been wondering about greetings, “hellos” and the like for a couple of weeks. I’ve paid attention to my greetings. I’ve watched complete strangers greet each other. It’s interesting. Very interesting.
This is what I’m thinking: when you greet someone, especially if you are the first one to say something, your greeting can determine the feel, or set the tone, of the conversation you end up having. In a sense, what you say has the ability to steer your conversation into the awkward zone, to build up walls or to create an open, welcoming feeling that covers over any possible assumptions or misunderstandings. You might desperately try to conjure a decent excuse to abruptly end the talking, or you might find yourself in a conversation you hope could last for hours.
I’m sure you know people, who, when you see them, literally greet you with open arms and an enthusiastic, friendly “hello.” Don’t you love that? A welcoming, happy greeting paves the way for an open, friendly conversation. I always feel extremely comfortable when talking to someone who greets me like that. Any misgivings or awkwardness are whisked away and forgotten.
On the other hand, I have to confess that there have been times when I’ve greeted someone in such a way that separated me from the other person. Perhaps I tried to sound too proper and polite, but in doing so, I unintentionally distanced someone with formality. Or maybe my perceptions of that person, or what I thought that person thinks of me, got in the way and made me feel awkward and unsure of what to say.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I want to make an honest effort in being relaxed instead of formal, open instead of narrow-minded and speculative, and welcoming instead of avoiding, at the start of every conversation. We ought to take responsibility for our position within every conversation we have. Why not make a deliberate choice to steer communication into the sweet, open air of future possibilities instead of receding into the swampy past?
Of course it’s easy to greet friends and family. Of course you are friendly and relaxed with them. Of course you can easily have fun greeting people you know well.
I’m referring to those people you see in church (they know who you are and you know who they are) but haven’t ever talked to; those kids who were in Grade 12 English with you but you were always worried they didn’t like you; those girls who were in your Psychology seminar last year that you sat next to, but you wonder if they remember you; those guys you were friends with in your teenage years, but then you grew apart when you grew up, so you haven’t talked to them in years and you wonder if they’d actually want to talk to you; the couple you worked with forever ago, and with all the time that’s gone by, you don’t know if they "qualify" as people you would walk up to to say “Hi” if you ran into them…
…all of those people who you have the chance to create positive connections with—just by putting a little enthusiasm into your greeting, by being open and accepting—just by going out on a limb, throwing yourself out there to make a point of saying “hey.” For it is in the relationships and connections we have with people that make life sweet, exciting, spontaneous, pleasantly surprising and never quite what we expect.
Happy Canada Day!