April 23, 2014

The first two paragraphs are taken from: “WISDOM TO GO”.  By Dr. Elizabeth Taylor

Members of the northern Natal tribes of South African greet one another daily by saying “Sawa bona”, which literally means: “I see you.” The response is “Sikhona” which means: “I am here”. This exchange is important, for it denotes that ‘until you ‘see’ me, I do not exist; and when you ‘see’ me, you bring me into existence. Members of these tribes go about their day with this personal validation from everyone they encounter – seen for who they are.  This speaks to the powerful intrinsic human need for validation, which we all share.  Compared to greetings in American and most western cultures this kind of deep acknowledgement of the ‘other’ on a daily basis is far more humane and vital, and it supports the wellbeing and integrity of the human community.  Our western way of saying “Hello.  How are you?” lacks this presence – this depth.  Often we greet in an automatic and rather perfunctory way, not really paying attention to the other’s response.  Ready to rush on once the greeting leaves our lips.  But the response we get may very well be “Well I’m not doing so great”.  We expect and assume a standard and predictable retort from the ‘other’, such as “I’m fine, and you?”which keeps us comfortable and not requiring any further effort or engagement on our part. Too often our greetings are not meant to go any deeper than superficial pleasantries.  We hear what we want to hear because we don’t want to or have time to engage at deeper levels.  We generally are not comfortable with and avoid those kinds of openings and intrigues.

What we stand to learn from the South African tribes is the importance of being ‘present’ with every person we greet during each day.  Our presence with them validates their humanity – which in-turn validates our own humanity.  We must watch and manage our tendency to rush through greetings, our tendency to not really ‘see’ or listen to others as they share their points of view or frames of thought.  We must monitor our tendency to get busy formulating assumptions and rebuttals while watching the other person’s lips move; and our tendency to impose criticism or even advice when it is not invited. These are forms of abuse, which often leaves the ‘other’ feeling bereft, assailed or treated in some unseemly way and embodying a vague sense of ‘dis-ease’ from a simple personal exchange. Moreover, these unsound feelings interfere with one’s further interactions, because this leftover ‘hurt’ energy must be relieved and acted out in some way.

These are definitely words of wisdom.  My wife and I are care-givers for a ninety-one (91) year old father (mine) and a ninety-four (94) year old mother (my wife’s).  Even though they are senior citizens plus, each requires the daily validation a visit and/or a phone call brings.  This validation is not age-dependent.  Even infants need validation given them by loving and caring parents for the best shot at a normal life.  This past week nine (9) individuals, some children, were murdered in Chicago with forty-seven (47) individuals injured.  The gunfire resulted from gang members squaring off at each other.  Turf wars to be exact.  Grievances unresolved.    The philologists tell us gang members, usually young men, gather together for the validation not found at home within a strong family unit.  Their family is represented by the peer group they choose to associate with.  I think so much is lost when proper encouragement of a positive nature is not given nor received; not just by the “gangs of Chicago”, but by individuals we meet on a daily basis.

I would challenge everyone to live, not just say “sawa bona” to those we see on a daily basis—friend, family or stranger.  We all deserve and need validation. I welcome your comments.


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