Credit: Jeff Ellenwood
This question has become a perennial in our writing circles, if only because the traditional ‘how are you’ implies such limited options. Door #1: ‘fine, thanks’ is generally nothing short of a placeholder. It neither conveys any real information, nor does it offer an opening to more. Door #2, however: ‘well, since you ask . . . ‘ can be an invitation to information overload, unwelcome intimacy, an antsy exit.
What if we greeted others with a genuine statement of interest? ‘I see you are . . . (rushing, wearing a new hat, holding a legal document).’ Or perhaps, ‘what have you been pondering today?’ Something, anything, to engage in immediate genuine exchange.
I cannot help but reflect on how dogs greet one another. They are restrained but up front. Nose to nose, tails tentatively awag; the ritual circling; then the action. If it’s an older dog my pup has met, she ‘gets’ this and doesn’t even try to engage. She politely wags, sniffs and walks away. If the dog indicates a playful nature, mine is off and a game of chase is on. If the dog comes at her full-face, a good–natured tussle ensues, usually involving ears.
This morning we had an unusual greeting. I was a bit ahead of my dog, when a familiar old fellow circled into the trees to our left; perhaps, I thought, trying to hide. Bad hair day, I guessed. Then, without warning, he charged from hiding right into her! And then departed without so much as a wag. We’ve all had these kind of sniper-attack greetings from a snarky, got-out-of-bed-on-the-wrong-side types.
But seriously. Isn’t there something to be said for the in-tune-ment of a canine greeting? It is immediate, grounded in the very here and now of the two meeting. It is interactive, requiring each to be forthright and intentional. It is respectful, giving each party a moment to communicate intention, interest. It lasts only as long as each is engaged. It leaves everyone with a clear sense of having communicated effectively. There is no doubt about the messages conveyed. And there are no hurt feelings. If this one doesn’t feel like chasing or chomping, perhaps the next one will.
We leave each canine interaction with a certain sense of completeness and optimism. Our day is better because of each greeting, however guarded or exuberant. So I invite you, today, to experiment with different ways of saying ‘hello, how are you?’ See what feels interesting to you; what engages the other. And then report back. I asked my Thursday writers to bring their new greetings to the circle tomorrow. I’ll add them here, too. Let’s see what we can create together that might bring more connection and more soul into our largely unconscious human habits of greeting.