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I’ve been giving the ideas of hospitality some thought lately. Nothing in particular, but as I come across something remotely concrete, I plan on sharing in some fashion.

I have heard many talks and sermons about giving thought to “what it looks like” to welcome people into our (whoever the “our” is) midst. Be it church, work, or society at large, I’ve heard the language in all places in one form or another. Each walk of life treats it differently, and they all fail and succeed differently, but they all seek in some fashion to achieve something of a simiilar goal despite a wide range of reasons.

Most recently, I’ve been struck by the value of simply saying hello.

Saying hello doesn’t take much time. It’s just one word, two if you include the name of the person. It’s easily done in just one breath. You can even challenge yourself and try to say it while inhaling (I wouldn’t reccommend it). It’s really that easy. Yet, I have noted that very few people take time to say hello in all its forms. “What’s Up?” “Hi, there.” “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening.” All are roughly standard greetings, really, and none take much time or energy. Most will elicit a smile from the other person, a few will spark a conversation, and only on rare occassions will a negative interaction ensue (usually because the person you are greeting is having some issues at that particular moment). So, why is it that I haven’t heard many people say hello outside of a couple of co-workers lately?

One assumption is that as people become closer friends or are family, the standard greeting is simply assumed aside from after long absences or special occassions. That sucks. I, for one, like to be greeted by my friends and family and tend to find myself feeling a little down when I am not greeted in such a simple way. It may just be me, but missing something this simple doesn’t communicate familiarity. Quite the opposite, actually. If no one else, the people we feel closest to should be worth far more than the two seconds it takes to say hello. Of course, missing one little greeting doesn’t end the world, but reaching a stage where it is rarely said, if ever, isn’t a good thing in my book.

Another possibility for “hello” seeming to fade a bit is that it simply isn’t part of the culture anymore. Rather than assuming hello for the closest of people, hello is assumed for the masses. Imagine saying hello to everyone you walked past in a day. That could be a lot of hellos. i recall shows on television and wonder if anyone says hello, aside from when they answer their phones (assuming they don’t just say their name, office, job title, or have someone else saying any of those for them). I haven’t done the research, but I’m willing to bet that a standard greeting isn’t so standard in the world of our favorite television shows, if what passes for a greeting is even one we would consider polite in our own lives. So maybe television has something to do with this (I won’t suggest a boycott, merely awareness).

On the flip-side, not saying hello to someone who is in our midst for the first time can quickly make sure they are never in your midst again. Or, if they have to be around us (i.e. at work), our first impression with this person probably isn’t the best in the world. Even further, ceasing to say hello to someone who has been in our midst for a while can be damaging in the long run. Not at first, of course, but eventually that person may not feel cared for by those who no longer greet them.

I would argue that one of the best questions to ask yourself when thinking about what it looks like to welcome the people around you into your midst is, “What makes me feel welcome.” When I think about what makes me feel welcome in any place, new and strange or old and familiar, someone saying hello and recognizing that I am there is right up at the top. There’s plenty of other stuff, but a regular greeting can trump a lot in this world.

I’m not at all good about saying hello. I’m best at this at work where, oddly enough, more people say hello than in any other place I have known save one and I’m still not all that great about it. At the University of Redlands, people would say hello all the time, almost to the point of annoyance, but it made for a very welcoming environment.

I try, though, in the other areas of my life (church, choir, my apartment complex, and the usual trips around town) as well as at work. Knowing that I would want the people around me to greet me and others helps me to remember to greet them as well. But it isn’t easy, especially when it feels like the world around you isn’t going to try you how you treat them (or worse, they might do exactly that).

So my challenge to myself is to try to walk into those places where it feels like greetings are passing by the way and start saying hello despite feeling unwelcome. Maybe if just one person genuinely says hello to even one person enough, that person will return it and pass it on at the same time.

Naturally, there is much more to caring for someone and welcoming them than saying hello (and I’m giving though to those as well). But hello is the gateway to many others. Saying hello is among the first steps and quite possibly a keystone to welcoming people, old and new. I’m starting to think now that before you can begin to welcome people in any other fashion, you have got to be able to say hello, say it often, and say it to a everyone who you cross paths with be they the oldest of Friends or a Stranger.