The Beauty of Sawubona and the Power of Acknowledging Others.

The stores were beckoning, and they drew me in with their tantalizing array of bright shiny objects. 

Giddy with excitement, I spent this past week going back into the shops. Since the end of winter, I have visited a few favorites, but finally, I felt comfortable enough to indulge in a hearty store-trawl—three in one afternoon!

Travel is back on the cards, and with it, my To-Do lists have sprung forth like flowers in the spring. Need: new SPF-50 hat, cute walking shoes, sunglasses—nothing like a good list to get my heart racing.

As I walked up to the first store, I saw they had a staff member handing out the cart/trolleys. As each shopper stepped forward, he tugged one from the long caterpillar of carts stored inside the shop. He wiped down the handle and removed any detritus before handing it off to the shopper.

As people are still distancing, there was a line of shoppers waiting to receive their cart. I was fifth back in line. As each person took a cart, I noticed a pattern of behavior that shocked me. Only one of the five people acknowledged the staff member. The others just grabbed their carts and strolled off as though the cart had materialized out of thin air. A human being? Where?

I factored in that maybe the shoppers were distracted by being back in a store and possibly a little nervous, and perhaps due to the masks, I just hadn’t heard them say thank you, but it still struck me as rude.

When I took my cart, I thanked the person and moved on. Yes, I still smile even with a mask on, old habits, and all that.

This got me thinking. How little effort did it take to acknowledge another person? We all want to feel like we matter. We want to know that those around us see our value or simply recognize us as a fellow human being. Acknowledgment is defined as recognizing the existence of someone. How hard could that be?

Years ago, when I taught etiquette/modern manners, I emphasized this point. Even when I worked with the younger children, I explained about acknowledging others. When you see a person you know, make eye contact, nod, smile, or say hello. Even if the person is well known to you (your granny), even if you see that same person in the same place every day (the car-pool mother who drives you to school), you can still take a second to let them know you see them. 

This lack of acknowledgment is a pet peeve that I suspect I share with others.

Most days, I am out walking in my neighborhood at least twice. I take my little dog out early for a trot around the block, and then later, I usually go for my walk. People being creatures of habit, I pass others I recognize—some I know personally, others I don’t know at all. I give names to the ones I don’t know: jogger with orange cap, lady who looks like her dog, speedy man, and so on.

As we pass each other, we all nod, smile, or wave. I usually say “good day” despite that people are often wearing earbuds. Even if the person is on the other side of the road, we all do the hand waggle or head tilt.

However, there is a couple who, in the last 15 years, has never once acknowledged me. Their daily walk takes them along the same route as mine. I started out with the hello and smile approach. Nothing. I then tried the nod and quick grin. Nothing. 

I know they are not impaired or disabled in any way, and so what is their reason?

I’ve been tempted to stop right in front of them and wave my hands back and forth like a drowning person just to see what would happen. 

Helloooo, anybody home?

In the Zulu language, the most common greeting when meeting others is sawubona. It means, “I see you, you are important to me, and I value you.” It’s a way to make the other person visible and to accept them as they are. More than words of politeness, sawubona carries the importance of recognizing the worth and dignity of each person. 

One small word doing all the heavy lifting. 

I still say good day to the couple (whom I silently refer to as Grumpy Couple), and I will continue to do so. It takes no effort on my behalf and, who knows, maybe they like hearing it?

I understand that navigating our way back into our world may be challenging, and we may need to polish some of our social graces. But now, more than ever, I believe it is important to look around and acknowledge others: “I see you, you are important to me, and I value you.”


4 Comments on “The Beauty of Sawubona and the Power of Acknowledging Others.

  1. I love this, Jane! “One small word doing all the heavy lifting.” How much does it cost simply to acknowledge another person?

  2. I agree with you, Most people in my neighbourhood and where I walk greet each other.
    It makes me sad when store clerks and people handing out the shopping carts are just ignored.

    • Thank you for the comment, Isabel. We will keep acknowledging people, regardless of what others may do.

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