How many times do you greet someone without really wanting to? I do it all the time, and it is usually followed by the mandatory, “How are you?”. Then in response, “I’m good, how are you?”, and so on. To cut to the point, I find this shallow and pretentious. Why do we tell people that we are good, even when we feel terribly depressed, or furious? I will answer these questions by recounting an inspirational talk held by a famous guru and saint that I attend last year.
Let me begin by relating my experience of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who spoke in Cape Town in August, 2012. The first topic he brought up was communication between humans. I will take liberty in reciting his speech, but will maintain his tone and message. He asked, “Why do flight hostesses tell us to enjoy our trips upon arrival in a new country, or to have a safe journey? They don’t really care, do they?” Guruji did however clarify that he believes there are people that are sincere when they ask us seemingly mundane or automatic questions, such as our close family and close friends. When a mother says to her daughter or son “Have a nice day”, it is considered to be a genuine interest in the child’s welfare and happiness.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar explained how little substance there is when many of us greet one another, but he also explained that we all have the inherent capacity and desire to truly care for each other. He said, “Imagine a planet from outer space were to attack earth. Would you not immediately join arms with people of all religions, beliefs and races? A homeless man on the street would become a brother-in-arms, opposed to someone that you patronize or disparage.” Again I must remind you that I am taking liberty with Guruji’s exact words, but his words were very similar. Ultimately, he believes that if we were all to be true to ourselves, this ingrained connection and empathy for all people would surface.
Using Guruji’s logic, I believe we greet each other absentmindedly or without real meaning only because we live as if we are all separate. There would be no point in hiding our true feelings if we knew that people would be understanding and caring we were to do so. Therefore, next time someone asks, “How are you?”, and you feel a little depressed, say that, and see how he responds. It will probably be a much more interesting conversation than if you were to respond instantly, “Good and you?” Then again, you could come across as a bit of a nut, or they just would not care. In that case they are unworthy of your time anyway.