“How are you?”
One of the earliest lessons we all teach our children is social etiquette, which includes saying “hello” and asking “how are you?” When I lived in a rural area, called KwaNgwanase, near Kosi Bay in KwaZulu Natal, one of my early lessons in learning to speak Zulu was to greet others. I enjoy the Zulu greeting which starts with “Sawubona” or “we see you”. I became used to walking on the streets and greeting fellow travelers, “we see you’ (sawubona) and received the same reply “we see you’ (sawubona). I felt so much part of the community just walking along the road or to the shops as people could see me and said so. I was not an invisible person walking in the street; I was seen and noticed. I found this to be affirming of my presence and making connections with others. If there was to be a start to any conversation, then the etiquette would be to ask ”Unjani? “or ”how are you?”’ Each culture and language has its own way of greeting, of making a connection with another.
We interact with our children in the same way. Waking up and seeing a child in the morning, we ask ”how are you?” and ”did you sleep well?“ Or, if they are still babies, we look for signs of a good rest and wellness. Facial expressions and body language can at times communicate better than words.
Last week I was asked to give a presentation on ”Growth and Development’’ for nurses at a professional development conference. I decided to include aspects of parenting into the presentation including asking “how are you? to patients and their offspring. This is the basic information needed to find out about and monitor growth, development and wellness through the new Road to Health Card. I was interrupted in my formal presentation by a comment from the audience that just could not wait for question time. A nurse told me that in reality she didn’t ask her patients how they were as she was too afraid of the answer. The nurse explained that the problems in the community are so huge that inquiring about the well-being of a patient is too difficult. I understood this as I too don’t ask people questions if I don’t want to know the answer or if the response is going to be something that I don’t want to discuss. I know that I sometimes avoid people who may tell me things I don’t want to hear. I also know that we often don’t ask families about their ‘different’ child, loss in the family, depressed or anxious relative or gay friend. Anything that makes us feels uncomfortable tends to be ignored and not asked about. I was glad that this nurse could be honest and say what she felt, as she represents many of us. I was also glad that the dialogue between the nurse and I continued through my presentation and in the end she came to her own solution: we need to ask ourselves how we are, before we can hear how others are.
So I wonder if we start each day greeting ourselves, ”I see you” and ”how are you?”, would this make a difference to our well-being? I wonder if we ask ourselves about the things of life that make us uncomfortable, would this help us to connect better with others. I also wonder if patients asked nurses how they are, would this make a difference. We assume that people working with responsibility for others are just fine, but perhaps we need to ask.
Let us become the person who has taught our children good manners for a worthwhile reason: to acknowledge and to show some kindness to others, even those who have a different story. There is much value to teaching our children an openness to others, and hopefully we can also show little ones how to do it in simple ways.
Let us be courageous to connect with ourselves and others. If we are brave enough to ask ourselves how we are, we might be surprised to hear the response. In greeting others, we may find ourselves in conversations that are tough and uncomfortable but may also find some encouragement from each other. Let us become what we teach to our children.