Hey, what’s up, hello: the power of a greeting

Michael GentileOf all the wonderful amenities that Hopkins offers, a ‘hello’ is too rarely one of them. For some sad reason we walk alone through our campus as thousands of individual snapshots, each of us frantically glancing at our phones or fixing our hair or staring at something far in our periphery just to avoid coming into another’s picture.

However, there’s not enough room on the wall for 5,365 undergraduate frames. We need one encompassing mural of love in action and friendliness in contact, unified by smiles and narrowed by ‘hellos.’ Or else, some people will be left out entirely.

We must stop this stigma against greeting one another on campus. Truly, we are all classmates, BME or Film and Media.

We are all too far from home for comfort, whether we’re from Baltimore County or Finland. We all endure the negative currency of dining dollars and the tragedy of uncovered grades (freshmen don’t count, sorry). There is not a person on this campus that you couldn’t have a conversation with if you sincerely tried.

But that fact remains unknown to many because every conversation, no matter what treasures it may hold, begins with ‘hello.’ So, say ‘hello,’ ‘what’s up,’ ‘top-of-the-morning,’ ‘hakuna matata.’ Embrace the possibility of conversation and explore the Hopkins that passes you by everyday.

After all, what stands in the way? Even if a full “How are you?” greeting is too much, the English language provides us with innumerable substitutes that are no more difficult to execute than a breath. Even if you lose your voice, the most awkward gesture that you can come up with or inappropriately copy from a movie will suffice. Oftentimes, the ‘hello’ only rests as the sprinkles on top of a good-hearted acknowledgement. Nobody is too ugly to be acknowledged. So tip your cap, nod your head, point finger-guns, jump for joy, express your social terror by hyperventilating. You could even smile. Imagine that.

After all, what do we achieve by greeting others so selectively? Think to yourself about the criteria that you use in deciding who to acknowledge around campus. For some, sharing a class is enough; for others, a regularity of conversation is necessary; for too many, neither works.

We have all been ignored by someone that we thought of as a friend and afterwards fumbled through the anxiety of evaluating a relationship. Bumping into someone on the way to class should never carry with it the potential to confirm or invalidate a friendship. We cannot take every casual encounter as a moment of judgment in which we must uncertainly assess our worth in the eyes of others, as if we are getting a test back. It shouldn’t be difficult. It’s just a ‘hi,’ nothing more behind it and nothing less accepted.

The beauty of a simple greeting is that it doesn’t have to relay into anything more, but it can — if you allow it — explode into beautiful swirls of opportunity that make this silly life of ours so amazing.

Yes, the person approaching you a hundred feet away might just be another person; you may not see them again. But that person could also be a future friend, perhaps your best one. You may even marry that person, as millions of improbable ‘how we met’ stories ring to. For the next 50 years you may smile at that one time you were a weirdo and made the best decision of your life.

A genuine greeting also holds great power as a flash of positivity. With nothing but a smile you may help a person through a time you didn’t realize. That stranger passing in the night may feel lonely or lost, hurt or void of hope, in need of any type of contact to reassure them that the world would be a little different without them there, that there are good people out there who care and love and need that same care and love in return.

That person, in return for your openness, may help you out when you need it most, even if all you need is that very same smile. Without ever needing to say ‘hi,’ you may one day need that person. And at what cost? As the Buddha once said, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

In saying ‘hello,’ allow your voice to flow like the wind, uncorrupted and uncompromising, unbiased and unrestrained. Allow your breath to shake your peers from the heights they may distance themselves with, like leaves on a tree. Be gentle, but consistent; do so without reservation, expectation or underlying purpose, but only with warmth.

You can only get a good look at a leaf once it has descended to the Earth. You will learn that those classmates, whose eyes you coldly avoid, are no different. Once we realize that the fall won’t hurt us — that falling is sometimes the best part — we can live tranquilly on the surface with one another, free to savor the dew of the grass and the grip of gravity. Autumn is in our midst.

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