Being Greeted: The First Element of Belonging

In developing more social capital, the first element to consider is the greeting.  This seems so simple that people rarely consider it, but I had an experience recently that brought this critical aspect to mind.

This past month I was invited to present in Auckland, New Zealand at the Imagine Better Assembly, a forward thinking conference held every other year in that wonderful country.  Given the respect held in New Zealand for the Maori culture, the conference coordinators started the event with an official greeting called a "Powhiri." 

Now the Maori's are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, and the respect held for them is deeply woven into the culture.  The "Powhiri" started with Maori tribal members performing a tradition of greeting the visitors with song, stories, and ceremony.  The tradition ended with each visitor being approached by the tribal members with a formal "hongi," where we touched foreheads and noses, and then took a breath through our noses, symbolizing the fact that we are breathing the same air together.

This ceremony was so profound that it brought tears to my eyes.  To have that kind of greeting, symbolic or otherwise, was deeply touching.  The "hongi" signals a strong respect for the newcomer, and in a simple, yet elegant way, says you are welcomed in my space.

So the next time you encounter a newcomer, regardless of where this might be, think about how you greet them.  More, go out of your way to personally seek out these people you do not know and welcome them into your space.  You might not perform a "hongi" and touch foreheads and noses, but in a way are still breathing the same air.