“No te olvides de saludar a todos los miembros de la iglesia, mujercita, porque tenemos muy Buenos modales en nuestra casita”
(Don’t forget to greet every church member, sweet girl, because in our household, we have good manners)
Sweet sing-song words spoken by my Mama Boliviana, Charito.
Standing at almost the exact height of my own momma, a whopping 5’2ish with long, dark, Pocahontas hair which she kept swept back in a loose ponytail as she worked in her kitchen. I remember afternoons spent cooking supper with her, patient conversations over breakfast as she listened to me fumble and blubber through her beautiful native language.
Charito was in every sense of the word genteel. Polite. Refined. You’d think she grew up on a farm in the South, frying up chicken, raising vegetables and growing babies…
I’ll never forget such a woman.
“cheeeel’l-bi,” she’d whisper while tip-toeing into my bedroom around 4:30 each morning, “vamos a correr.” (We’re going to run.)
And we’d be off, me nearly suffocating due to the thin, high altitude air of Bolivia. I’d run behind her in her matching jumpsuit and hat, just praying for when she wanted to turn around and head home.
She took care of her sons, her momma, cared deeply for her aged Father. She and her husband ran a ministry each Saturday in their local park for homeless people and orphans. They’d make food, have a bible lesson, and pass out clothing. And she had the same look in her eyes then that gleamed when I sat with her in the mornings, drinking Nescafe coffee.
Love. Her eyes said. Acceptance. Warmth. Kindness. Joy.
I recall a Sunday she had invited me to church. Just before we walked through the doors, she reminded me, “Shelby, do not forget to greet every church member.”
What a ridiculous custom it was!!
In Bolivia, like other South American cultures, the people are warm. Friendly. They greet one another with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek.
In my language school, my professors were adamant,
When you enter a room, you go by and kiss every person on the cheek. Every single one! It was ridiculous and took so much time!
I’d laugh when I went to a gathering, seeing little kids trailing their mother, up on tippy toes kissing cheeks and learning about manners… But kiss cheeks, I did, because I loved Charito, and as sweet as she was, I wasn’t brave enough to disobey her…
But you know, after the ridiculousness of the custom wore off, I started to enjoy it. Greeting everyone just kind of leveled the playing field. Everyone owed a nod of respect, an affirmation of their arrival. It was just a decent thing to do. No possibility of favoritism, everyone showing proper respect to everyone for being present. Being a person was enough to get you a warm friendly hello. It didn’t matter who you were or how much money you had or how important you were…
I suppose, long ago, to walk into a room without greeting a person was a breach of civility.
Introductions were being made across the hall in my office. I saw two new visitors with a co-worker, and she went around to each department, casually introducing her parents to my team. We waited in sales to be introduced, but as minutes turned to an hour, I realized she probably wasn’t bringing her parents by to introduce them to us. I didn’t say anything, but my whole team expressed displeasure through the day.
“Did she really just introduce her family to everyone, but us?”
“I mean, geez, what did we do?”
“well, that was really classy..”
You could hear the bite in each remark.
It was an unintentional and unassuming move by my coworker. She didn’t skip my team to be rude or ugly, she just didn’t bring them by our department. And though I know her intention wasn’t to hurt anyone that day, she made me think of Charito.
“Don’t forget to greet every person, sweet girl”
My Bolivian momma taught me to greet people because it was polite in her culture. It was just expected.
American’s can learn from my friends in Bolivia. We’re an individualistic society, and that’s something that I love about us. As we each look to our own self-interests, our communal goals can be realized. It’s the basics of free market. People are free to enter into contractual agreements by terms and prices that they, as individuals set. And when I enter the market, the market forces me to make a better product or sell at a lower price than competitors. It’s a check and balance system. Anyone can enter into the market, but the market makes for fair game. It’s an equalizer of sorts. But it’s also an open invitation for innovation.
I built this product and everyone needs it. And then someone comes along and can build it better and cheaper, and the cycle begins. The best product is made at the best price for consumers. The principles of free market are a part of the basic DNA of all Americans.
We’re all free to pursue our own interests.
We’re all free to enter contracts and negotiations at will.
We’re all free to own, buy, sell, have, protect- property.
Certain Unalienable Rights…
We, better than any other country in the world, understand the potential an importance of the individual. Infrastructures are built by individuals. Governments are ran by individuals. Businesses are operated by Individuals. The individual is the single most important unit in a country.
I recognize the importance of the individual.
But maybe in our quest for individualism- in the day and age of fighting for your family right, your ethnicity right, your individual right… in our own self-absorption, we’ve lost the ability to see the intrinsic value that all individuals have.
Maybe we’ve forgotten that all people matter simply because they breathe the same air as us, have hearts, minds, and souls like us...
Maybe we’ve forgotten, in our vanity, that our most harmful and destructive tendencies come, not from caring about ourselves, but from only caring about ourselves.
I’ve learned a lesson, twice now in my life, and I can’t forget it.
Making Salutation my habit is a pledge to bring value, honor, and esteem to every person who receives it.
And you know, maybe that doesn’t seem like much. But in a society full of hashtags, racially-charged riots, protests against/for human life and rights…
The thing we could all hear a little more of is:
You are valuable. You are worthy of honor and respect. You have dignity. And that’s the end of it. No because of your race, no due to your position in society, none of that.
A Salutation is just a hello. A quick nod of respect. A greeting. A curtsy in the old day.
But behind that hello is my individual admission that you as an individual matter.
And America, yes, I’m talking to all of you. In your star-spangled quest to be whatever individual you want to be. Don’t forget– the individuals around you matter just as much. And seeing each individual’s intrinsic value consistently will help all those out there who seem to have forgotten.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — The Declaration of Independence