I am an 81-year-old senior citizen, who was always brought up to respect my elders and rabbis. My parents always taught my family to say hello to people they meet, and I’ve been doing that all my life. Recently, I decided to see if others did this, as well. I stopped saying hello to people for a period of time, to see if they would say hello to me uninitiated. I am embarrassed to say that not one person said hello to me first. I even tried it with a respected community member, whom I meet almost every day. I stopped initiating the greeting, and he didn’t say hello to me. I approached him and asked him if he was mad at me, if perhaps he was not saying hello because I had stopped saying hello to him. He apologized and said that his mind was somewhere else and of course he is not mad at me. I then went back to saying hello to him first. What should I make of this?
A Senior Greeter
Dear Senior Greeter,
Do you remember the days when children naturally behaved respectfully towards their elders and etiquette was commonplace? I grew up around such ideals and developed an awe of rabbis and a deep respect for those older and wiser than myself. As a shy little girl, I needed to be prompted to say hello to others, but as an adult it is commonplace for me. Like you, I have encountered those who don’t greet me, even sometimes those who know me well.
I believe that at the heart of the problem is the virtual disconnect from face to face interaction that characterizes today’s generation, and the source of this bane may be the virtual world itself. People walk around with their noses in their blackberries, headphones and Bluetooth modules in their ears and their heads in Facebook. But aside from the distraction all this connectivity causes, the irony seems to be that all these new modes of communication have hijacked our etiquette and eroded our ability to truly connect to each other on a personal level.
With this in mind, I try to give the benefit of the doubt to those acquaintances who don’t offer a greeting, figuring that they either didn’t see me or were distracted. This makes me feel a little less invisible.
But this coping technique doesn’t really address the root of the problem. I still remember something I learned a long time ago: our face is public property. The public views our face far more often than we do, and so we have a responsibility to make an extra effort to wear a smile, share a polite greeting, and notice those around us. While this may seem trivial to some, it is only because they fail to realize how important this simple gesture might be. Behind the smile and confidence of any of us older folks, might be a person who feels alone, unappreciated or lonely; feelings that a simple sincere greeting can wash away in an instant.
It is my hope that young people come to realize this sooner rather than later so that the future generations can be brought up with the same courtesy and etiquette that are a part of our generation.