Like Alice, a wonderland of greeting that is curiouser and curiouser
But I err. It was a wonderful form of greeting, based no doubt on a concept of Ubuntu, a truly African belief in the human worth of us all.
It goes something like this:
“Hello! How are you?”
The common practice in South Africa now is to answer, “I am fine. How are you?”
All very well, one would think, except that this babble of words has now lost all meaning.
Thus it is not uncommon for someone to phone up with the customary greeting and, after asking how one is, and without missing a beat, reply, “I am fine too”. Then they go about their business.
The point is that the caller has not really cared about how one is or indeed even received a reply.
I have become so irritated with such inconsiderate behaviour that, to see whether the caller is actually listening to my answer I say, “I am very sick, thank you”.
To date, and having done this now for about a month, not once has any caller stopped in his or her tracks to express concern, amazement, sympathy or even to pause. They just carry on regardless – always assuming that I have also asked after their well being – which I haven’t – and telling me that they are fine too.
What is it that has caused a greeting that was meant to be considerate to become nonsensical? Is it the fast-paced life we live? Is it the fact that no one really gives a hoot about how anyone else is?
Is it an emerging – or perhaps it has already emerged – uncaring South African state of mind that now appears to take pathological social deviances such as crime, rape, fraud and corruption so much for granted that many such cases never even get reported?
But surely it is not, for something deep inside me refuses to believe that we are such an uncaring people.
Perhaps it is just plain laziness?
Yes, that’s it! Laziness.
But laziness about what? It’s a slothfulness of minds that are packed full of noise and self-interest and are not in tune with a basic need of effective communication which is to listen.
“Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are being stupid and insulting”. Proverbs 18:13
And I mean listening with intent: listening to the precise meaning of what the other person is saying; hearing the meaning of their language and understanding the value of the words they use; enjoying the sheer spirituality that comes with meditating in silence and listening to the quietness of our creation.
Everything communicates: intelligent and wise words; the stillness of the bush; the cry of a new born baby; the wise words of an old man or woman.
But we have stopped listening.
It’s time for us all to listen more.