Namaste, Greetings, Relationships and New Year Resolutions
One of the things I have noticed in my travels across the United States is the way in which people, even strangers, greet one another. In the Northeast, including places like New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and others, is that, when walking down the street, people are likely to ignore you as greet you in answer to your greeting. It's an unpleasant feeling to be ignored if you never lived in a place like New York, but to New Yorkers, it is expected and customary.
Having grown up and lived on the east coast most of my life, particularly New York, I was taken aback when, in Boulder Colorado, people commonly initiated a greeting with a pleasant smile. More than that, it was easy to engage in a short conversation sometimes characterized as "small talk."
Even the term "small talk" carries with it a dismissive and hostile attitude towards conversing. In other words, why bother saying anything when the other person can be just as easily ignored.
In India there is a thoroughly different attitude and custom towards friends, neighbors and strangers. That custom is what is referred to as "Namaste." The word is pronounced namah + te and involves bowing to the other person when pronouncing the word. However, the bow, which is very slight, and the word carry much deeper meaning than what Americans mean by "Hi." First, the Namaste bow involves bending the arms from the elbow upwards and placing the palms together in front of the chest and uttering the word "Namaste" and while bowing the head slightly.
In one way Namaste means that the real meeting of people is the meeting of their minds. The meeting of the palms of the hand and the slight bow literally means that we are extending friendship. love, respect and humility. On a deeper level, Namaste is the belief that the life force, the divinity, the Self or the God in me is the same in all. Acknowledging this oneness with the meeting of the palms, we honor the spirit in the person we meet.
In a world that seems increasingly alienated, where people turn away so as to avoid eye contact, where people are afraid to interact with one another, the Indian custom seems a deeply important way to overcome these fears by recognizing the dignity that exists in every person.
We, in the U.S. need to learn a better way to be accepting of one another. This will be my New Years Resolution: Always greet people.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD