A friend of mine recently took an incredible trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. As she described the historical ruins, the beautiful Buddhist temples where she prayed with monks, how she loved being on a boat in Hoi An, where pearls and silk are produced in abundance for sale to the tourists, and how she picked her delicious seafood dinner from what was caught on a fishing boat that day, I was captivated. Even though poverty was apparent everywhere, she said, and the Vietnamese people prefer you pay them in American dollars, their spirits seemed anything but poor.
Her trip sounded truly wonderful, and something I'd like to experience myself someday. But of all things she told me about, one thing in particular she mentioned stayed with me a little longer, and made me think of the glaring cultural differences between us and the Vietnamese: the way they interact with one another, even strangers. They greet everyone they see with direct eye contact, their hands clasped in a prayer salutation.
I've always resonated with the Buddhist saying, "Bow to the Buddha within," which means that everyone has Buddha consciousness inside them, and if we acknowledge it one another, we are recognizing our true, higher nature. That philosophy is so meaningful to me that I've incorporated it into my daily life. But I have to remind myself far too often that I don't live in a Buddhist country -- people rarely make eye contact with strangers here in America, and more often than not, don't greet them with an expression of peaceful welcome. In fact, if you can exchange even just smiles between the people you encounter daily, that's pretty good. Direct eye contact along with that smile is something you can probably only expect from your family and friends.
If I was given a choice between a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia or instead have my fellow Americans adopt the Vietnamese people's way of mindful greeting of one another, I would without question choose for us to stop being so incredibly unfriendly and aloof to one another once and for all. Yes, I'd love to see all of the wonderful things my friend saw on her trip, but the lacking of social graces in our country is so prevalent and, I believe, the cause of much of the social disconnect and increasing "every man for himself" attitude, I would eagerly sacrifice a glorious trip to visit a culture that has much to be admired so that ours could perhaps emulate its more welcoming message.
I'd love to be part of a culture that is admired by others, and though I'm sure we still are in many ways, it's no secret that America's reputation has fallen from grace a bit recently and we aren't the envy or darling of the rest of the world anymore. So how about starting to rebuild our image by being nicer to our fellow citizens and acknowledging the Buddha in each other? Or, at the very least, smiling more?
I think we should simply do away with hand shaking altogether and adopt the prayer salutation. We spread more germs to one another by touching hands, so why not give the clasping of our own hands a try? I'm all for bringing out our inner Buddha and showing it off, and a good way to do that is by how we greet each other each day.
I'm going to try it. Please join me. In doing so, we might become the talk of the rest of the world and admired once again.
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