When a Greeting is more than a Greeting

Greetings are important because they initiate conversation or interaction. Most of the time we just gloss over the greeting, not putting much, if any, emphasis on what we say or how we say it.

So what does a greeting sound like? It can take all sorts of forms.

Hi.

Hello.

How are you?

What’s up?

Buenos dias.

Bonjour.

Konnichiwa.

Namaste.

Sometimes we don’t even use words – we just up-nod, wave, or maybe even bow our heads depending on our cultural background or upbringing.

Any way you express yourself in greeting another person is the beginning of an acknowledgment or interaction with that person. And we all do it slightly differently, but most of us don’t really think about it much at all.

Let me tell you about the greeting used in the Kwa-Zulu Natal region of South Africa. This region lies on the northern end on the west side of South Africa, and the tribes-people have a unique way of greeting each other.

When a Natal tribes-person approaches another, they say, “Sawubona.” This greeting is from the Zulu language and means “I see you.” (More accurately, it means “We see you,” because in the Ubuntu culture each person carries past generations within their souls, and so their greeting is from many people, not just the one speaking.)

For the sake of our discussion today, let’s just keep the meaning to “I see you” to keep things simple.

Now this phasing may seem strange to us Westerners, particularly here in the United States. It seems so obvious, “I see you.” No kidding, you’re right in front of me, of course I see you.

But try to understand the tribes-people of Kwa-Zulu Natal. These South Africans are not nearly as modernized as we are in The States. They live in what we may call fairly primitive homes, wearing scant beaded clothing, living off the land.

And though Christianity is the main religion, many hold on to their traditional ancient beliefs of a creator god, witches, and sorcerers, where their king was responsible for all national magic and rainmaking.

These people live as herders and farmers and have a strong connection to nature and spirituality.

In fact, getting back to our original topic, we learn that the Natal people put much greater meaning into this greeting of “sawubona” than we Westerners do with our greetings of “hello” or “how are you.”

For instance, if I were to walk past you and not say, “hello”, you probably would just think I was a jerk. But if we lived among the Natal tribes, and I walked past you without saying, “sawubona”, you would begin to feel inadequate and maybe even begin to question your earthly existence.

That is how strong this greeting is in the Ubuntu culture. It means everything.

Now, here is the interesting part of this greeting. The response to “sawubona” is “sikhona”. And you may be wondering, “what does sikhona mean?” You would be forgiven to think it means, “I see you too.
But it actually means, “I am here.”

Again, this sounds so simple and so obvious, but think about these two phrases.

Sawubona: I see you.

Sikhona: I am here.

This is such a beautiful exchange, because it denotes that ‘until you ‘see’ me, I do not exist; and when you ‘see’ me, you bring me into existence. That is exquisite.

Imagine if you showed up with this mindset every time you met someone or greeted them each day.

Imagine the change in your heart, the approach in your delivery, the difference in the conversation.

How do you think that other person would feel if you came in with a feeling of actually “seeing” the other person, bringing them into existence?

How do you think you would feel knowing that you are not merely meeting or greeting someone, but truly “giving life” to this person?

How would this new mindset change your entire outlook on life?

Knowing that you have the immense power to “see” others and let them know that they are “here.”

This is a powerful way to initiate interaction and cultivate conversation.

I challenge you to start your day with a sense of “sawubona”. When you see someone, really see them. Make them feel the spirit of “sikhona” as if now they exist, they are truly here and they are special. Create a feeling, an energy, that nothing else matters but your connection with each other.

I see you.

I am here.

We are one.

Your Mindful Moment:

When we take the time to ‘see’ people, we bring them to life!

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Jimmy Glenos is a Work/Life Performance Coach. He helps people achieve their biggest dreams, reach their highest energy, and attain total work/life fulfillment. With over 30 years of hospitality and health care experience, Jimmy brings deep knowledge and insight to help people lead at work and succeed in life.

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