How are you? RUOK? I mean really, not the polite, surface response! Do you have people to talk to when life is a struggle?  I hope so. We all need that. One recent survey said that 25% of Americans have no one that they feel close enough with to share a problem. That’s shocking to me! It’s shocking both because of the level of loneliness out there, but also because people who are disconnected are more vulnerable to physical and mental health issues.

What happened? How did we become so disconnected from each other?

When you travel or live in different cultures, you learn many different ways that people stay connected. I learnt many when I moved to New Zealand.  I was due to meet a prominent Maori hip-hop dancer, who also happened to be gay. As a recent Australian arrival on Kiwi shores, I hadn’t yet learnt Maori greeting etiquette. I approached him with my hand outstretched, but soon realized that he was moving straight in past my hand. I prepared myself for a hug. That was okay, friendly for a first meeting but okay. So I raised my arms to hug him but quickly found that he was heading past my arms and straight towards my face. This surprised me, but I didn’t want to flinch. So I gathered myself, European style, for a kiss on the cheek. His face kept moving toward me. I realized that he was heading straight for my face. Determined not be the uptight honky Aussie, I braced myself, puckered up and smacked one right on his lips.

My new friend laughed, told me not to worry, and explained the Maori custom of the Hongi, where two people rub noses as a greeting. The beautiful symbolism of the Hongi is the sharing of breath. Two people come together, very close together as I discovered and become one in breath. Breath unites us. It’s an uncomfortable ritual if you’re not used to it. It certainly took me out of my comfort zone. But it’s so powerful!

Not everyone greets each other with Hongis, but I discovered in New Zealand that most people use some Maori language and customs and it genuinely seems to unite the country in a way that I never experienced in Australia or now in America.

Many people in New Zealand greet each other with the words “kia ora”. It means “be well”. And they also say “kia kaha” which you might say to someone going through a challenge, and it means “Be Strong! Both expressions sound powerful, and leave you feeling strong and supported.

There are many global greeting rituals and words. Among the African Masai tribes, considered the most fearless warriors, their traditional greeting was “Kasserian ingera”, which means “are the children well?” It’s still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the value that the Masai place on their childrens’ well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own give the traditional answer. “All the children are well.” It means more than just that children are well. When society treats children well, society is well. It’s all related.

In the west, we tend to keep things at a surface level. We ask each other, “How are you?” and answer “Fine!” Which is fine if you’re fine, but what if you’re not?

I like to mix in company where people celebrate your success, but it’s also ok NOT to be ok. We don’t have to solve each other’s problems, but we can be with each other through the struggles of life just as we are through the joys. If I’m not prepared to hear an honest answer, I shouldn’t ask the question. If I ask the question, I need to accept the answer.

My experience living in different places is that cultures that remain connected to the land and indigenous traditions are far more connected to each other. I don’t know what it is, but would love to think we could create new western rituals to remind each other that we are not alone, that we have each others’ backs. Maybe we just need to borrow from other cultures.

The Sanskrit word “namaste”, is another powerful greeting word. Namaste has become a common greeting in western meditation groups, churches and yoga classes. The root of the word “namaste” is “nama” to bow and “te” to you. Another way to think about “nama” is “not mine” (na- not, ma-mine). When I bow, I get my ego out of the way, meaning that I get my belief that I exist separate from others, out of the way. I press my hands near my heart to indicate my heartfelt respect and compassion. When we greet from this place, and get our egos out of the way, there is only one of us. How powerful! How reassuring! My wellbeing is bound up with yours.

RUOK? I hope so, but if you’re not it’s ok to say so, and either way I want to be a person who will stand with you and reflect your inner strength. Be well. Be strong. Wholeness and strength in me greets and honors the same in you. Namaste!

This is the first part of a series on compassion. Part two is about the many faces of love. Part three is about mindful compassion.

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  1. […] This is part of a series on compassion, which includes being real and keeping it real. […]

  2. cris stevens says:

    Mr. Lawton,
    I was recently talking with my wife and she mentioned re framing.  I wasnt sure of its meaning and when I looked it up online I found your article on Reframing perspective.  It was most helpful and enlightening to me and exactly what I needed to read.  So i came back to your homepage and found your recent articles to have very interesting titles and “hooks” to get me to read more.  

    It looks like my “open” Sunday morming just filled up.

    More posts to come,



  3. ian says:

    Awesome Cris, thanks for your comment and keep in touch. Ian

  4. Daniel says:

    Hi Ian,
    I am from Brazil and receive your daily tweets and always have great messages.
    “How did we become so disconnected from each other?”
    I think we made a big misunderstood why machines were created for.
    We, as species, made great advances/improvements externally, but we move away from our essence. The World is relational, but the relationship is between people, not between person and machine.
    When I mention people I mean all nature, not only human beings. We were not separate from it, despite the fact we think we are…
    Thanks for spreading your seeds. They have been feeding my soul…

  5. ian says:

    Well said Daniel. I agree very much. Namaste!

  6. Do you have the source of this survey: “One recent survey said that 25% of Americans have no one that they feel close enough with to share a problem.”?  Thanks, Lisa  PS Enjoy your quotes on twitter.

  7. debra says:

    I agree totally that you shouldn’t ask the question if you dont want to hear a truthful answer. I cant stand the fakeness of it all

  8. Jasna says:

    I prefer real to meet the people.In slovenian language are words sreča=happiness and srečati=to meet very similar.You see,we are happy when we meet each other IN LIFE.It is not good that money and not important material  thinks are so important for people .Material thinks are not important to me ,important are  only from aspect  how to help to other people to survive ,WITH US shall ALWAYS  be LOVE and COMPASSION to other living beings.RESPECT ALL and  CARE for people who need help.PEACE shall be priority.I noticed ,we have every day more people,who change their material thinks with meditation and they are now  on higher level.All people shall change in good =GOD DIRECTIONGOD=GOOD=LOVE+LIGHT+COMPASSION+CARE+PEACE+JUSTICE+RESPECT

  9. I had a sponsor in AA who was childhood friend and a very special guy. Ralph got me through the hardest and toughest period of my life. He stuck by me when I cried my eyes out over all the things I had done and ruined in my life from the booze (being a recovering Alcoholic 1984), and helped me learn to except all I did and learn to live with it – somehow. He is the closest adult male friend I have ever had. Sadly during his dirty divorce, he picked up a bottle after 25 years of sobriety. 18 months later he died in a single car accident missing a curve on a windy road and ending up hitting a tree. I had met with his several times when he was drinking on and off, asking him, what are you doing, man? You know better. Only to get reassured the drinking was over – well it wasn’t. The last time I saw my dear friend Ralph was a brief few minutes at my father’s wake (alcoholism killed my Dad), and that was the night of December 08, 2002. He died 10 months later on October 30, 2003. I never saw Ralph in those in between months, he was always too busy to have lunch or get coffee. I failed to be able to do for my closest friend what he did for me. I have a loving wife and one other close male friend, but the world is so busy with children and business. Its not the same as someone you have known for ions – and love. Some relationships with people in your  life just can not be replaced. Value your true friends like gold is my message. Life is short.  – God Bless.

  10. Suma says:

    I lived in Dubai..  Nd we tough our noses  as greeting way ☺But i prefer  hugs… I hope everyone have a close person to talk with anytime 

  11. Nelleke Knarr says:

    Ian, thank you for sharing your humorous greeting experience, along with your insightful reflections on greeting and receiving responses.A few weeks ago, I had an unusually high concentration of people share news of challenges with me: a very young coworker had a heart attack and was induced into a coma, his closest associate came into work to hear that news after hearing the night before that a friend had been stabbed to death, another friend discovered that her husband had betrayed her financially, another’s husband of many years had moved out unexpectedly.  As my heart poured out to these friends, acquaintances, and their unknown-to-me loved ones, I reflected on the question of how many others around me were secretly in pain, carrying heavy burdens that they were not sharing, even with those closest to them; and, of how we try to console each other when they do confide in us.  Following is an excerpt:If we have the presence to really ask what is going on with each other, and if we have been true enough to earn each other’s trust, we find these things out. We are shocked that our loved ones have endured such trials, and that they have done it without our support. Our hearts pour out toward them, like a salve for their wounds. We want to ease their pain, their exhaustion, their shame, their loneliness, their grief. And we do.Or at least we try.Not every hurt can be kissed or hugged or laughed or cried away. But knowing we have a friend who cares lightens our burden. The gift of empathy is the truest expression of love. To know that, no matter what our days hold, that others are thinking of us, sending us strength & courage & love, is one of the great graces of this life. Love to each of you this day…

  12. Carl says:

    Hi, IanI really like the many definitions of “namaste” including the latest one:   “The weird in me honors the weird in you”.

  13. What an interesting article. I love learning about all the customs in other parts of the world. It is true that we seem to be becoming more disconnected with each other as time goes on and it’s sad. Unfortunately, very few people really want to hear if things aren’t ok. The ones you find that do care are treasures indeed. I really love the namaste greeting and am glad we are using it more here. We really need to be there for one another because the world is becoming more and more depressing and stressful. People need each other and I hope we all realize it soon. 

  14. Sandra says:

    Hi IanLovely post, thank you. After spending 8 years living in New Zealand I can totally resonate with everything you say about the country and it’s amazing people. I’m just collaborating with some NZ coaches to start up a new venture called ‘’, to bring the luscious laid back kiwi lifestyle to the world. I believe it needs to have an injection of their way of life 😉

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