How We Greet People Is Changing, And That Is A Good Thing

We’re changing the way we greet people, and change can be good.

COVID-19 disrupted the world in a way not known for decades, and its repercussions will likely change our lives for decades to come. But don’t despair…

Some changes are good. Like learning to slow down, be creative at home, appreciate family and friends and truly connect in more personal ways.

As we navigate this novel virus we’re re-learning how to have meaningful connections with our clients, friends, colleagues and family without putting them at risk. This is a novel challenge…so how do we extend greetings to the people in our lives?

As a coach and counselor, I decided to take some time and learned about the kinds of greetings other cultures around the world practice – and many of us here at home that you probably took for granted. They may become meaningful practices for us in the days to come.

Namaste…and other ways we can share our greetings.

Unless you’ve been living in isolation longer than the last month, you’re familiar with the word “namaste”.  In Hinduism, it means “I bow to the divine in you”. It’s a 4,000-year-old Sanskrit word – perhaps even older – that is a gesture of respect and reverence. Your hands meet at your chest and you bow to communicate your thanks to – or for – someone.

While many of us on this continent only experience the greeting at a yoga class, it’s been a cultural norm in India for centuries. It’s a sign of genuine thanks and good-will…without touch.

On the African continent, there is an equally meaningful greeting, one that conveys a connection without a physical connection: Sawubona.

In South Africa, sawubona is the Zulu word for “Hello.” There’s a beautiful and powerful intention behind the greeting as sawubona literally means, “I see you, and by seeing you, I bring you into being.”

Wow…imagine being greeted like that! Wouldn’t that be more energizing than a half-hearted handshake or a forced and awkward hug?

We all have an opportunity right now to redefine social contact…and the authenticity behind it. Our lives have become increasingly impersonal with the use of technology to communicate.

But in this age of ‘high tech’ we’re realizing now we had become extremely ‘high touch’, as well. Touch is conspicuous in its absence during this time of COVID-19.


So let’s seize this opportunity together…and practice another social norm from the Zulu language: Ubuntu. Coarsely translated it means “humanity” but it’s often interpreted as, “I am because we are.”

Here’s how the Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained the concept:

It is about the essence of being human… It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours… The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.

An anthropologist is said to have witnessed the concept of ubuntu firsthand – I’m not sure if it’s fact or fable – when she put out a basket of fruit in a small African village, gathered the children and challenged them to a footrace to the basket. Whoever got there first would get the most fruit.

When the anthropologist started the race the children all joined hands and ran to the basket together. She asked why…and one child responded, “How can I be happy when others are unhappy?”

We’re in this together.

The coming months are going to challenging. We’ll be relearning how to function as more separate beings physically while still working towards common goals – at home with our loved ones, at work with our clients.

Yes, this virus is contagious – we can’t avoid that reality – but I firmly believe that positivity is contagious, too. It always has been…

I use the word enthuenza to describe my spreading enthusiasm and focusing on positive and hopeful expressions, no matter the crisis or challenge we may be facing. It doesn’t mean hiding from the reality of our situation, it means taking an opportunity to rethink our relationships…find new ways to explore them and build upon them.

As coaches and counselors, it’s our job to navigate disruptive change for the clients under our care. Just as scientists all over the world are working to find a physical cure for this novel virus, it’s our responsibility to help guide people through the emotional changes that have come from this challenge.

We’re changing the way we greet people, and change can be good.

If you’d like to have a conversation about ways to keep a connection, I’d love to hear from you. We’re in this together.

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to also read:

9 Ways To Create Peace In Your Life – Even When The World Is Pure Chaos
7 Ways To ‘Get Out Of Your Mind’ When Life Is Stressing You Out
How To Have Fun While Seriously Learning

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