Social Greetings: Elbow Bumps Just Don’t Cut It

Author: Larry Dansky

“Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6
I was recently involved in a Zoom meeting when the discussion focused on “What has been the hardest thing for you to deal with during this pandemic?” My first response was not being as connected to family, but then I added “and I really miss hugging.”
Hugging has not always been a comfortable approach for me in greeting others. In fact, well into my adult years my norm was a handshake for anyone other than close family. Hugging seemed too personal. Then I became a leader for a church high school youth group. At the end of our mid-week meetings, we circled up, put forth any prayer wishes, and then ended as follows:

Leader: God is good. Group: All the time.
Leader: All the time. Group: God is good.
Leader: Go in peace. Group (shouting): and hug somebody!

Of course, all of the youth greeted each other with hugs. At first, I felt really uncomfortable. But when I saw that even the ninth-grade boys had joined in, I had no excuse but to get out of my comfort zone. Over time, it became so normal that I started greeting many other acquaintances with hugs.

Soon after this experience, I began a meditation practice and joined a Zen sangha. In Zen, bowing is a frequent occurrence. One bows when greeting others, when entering the Zendo, when passing the Buddha, and before sitting on your cushion. All of that before starting meditation. Bowing was even more uncomfortable for me than hugging. Having been raised in the Jewish tradition, I was taught that one bows only during prayer to God, and not to other people or objects. When I learned that bowing was simply a way to show respect to others and was a sign of humility, I got out of my comfort zone and accepted the practice.

It’s not just the gestures, but also words of greeting that are common to other cultures. In the West, we say hello, but in Hawaii it’s aloha, in the Jewish religion it’s shalom, and in India it’s namaste. And there are other gestures common in different cultures. Greetings in France may include kisses on the cheek. Greetings in India include pressing your hands together over your heart as you say namaste. Apparently in Tibet, they may even stick out their tongue a little as part of greeting others. Native peoples in New Zealand may rub noses. These last two greeting gestures are way too far out of my comfort zone – I’m not likely to adopt either of them.

With this pandemic, we are trying not to directly contact other people. The handshake is out. The hug is out. Even the fist-bump is out. I’m sorry, but the elbow bump doesn’t do it for me. So, I have gotten back to bowing, although I do miss the physical contact in greeting others. I miss hugging. When this is all over, I hope to be able to resume handshakes in formal circumstances, and hugs for everyone else.

God is good…All the time…All the time…God is Good…Go in peace…And hug somebody (when the pandemic is over)!

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