Saying hello has become a lost art

I am being haunted by the ghost of Christmas past. Now before you say, “Mark, the holiday season was so over weeks ago,” work with me here.

Instead of the usual seasonal leftovers (like bills), one thing sticks in my mind. It’s a lyric from Burl Ives’ classic hit, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.” And now that I brought it up, you can’t get it out of your head either.

Here’s the convicting line from ol’ Burl: “Say hello to friends you know, and everyone you meet,” EVERYONE? That’s a tall order, isn’t it?

Greeting others is difficult. For example, when’s the last time you even said “hello” to a stranger on the street… or anywhere else?

How about when you’re in an elevator with others? My friend Dennis Prager told me long ago how he goes out of his way to say something funny to others in such situations, especially if he is there with only one other person. It sends a message that sets the other individual at ease. Humor and a good-natured personality make a difference, especially when people don’t expect it.

Too many of us say little or nothing to our fellow Americans each day. Simple greetings have become a lost art.

Maybe we’re too caught up in high tech communication, engaged in social media greetings and posts, tweets and updates. It feels like we say hello all the time. Just not in a more personal way.

Saying hello to friends you know is a wonderful place to begin the process. Maybe you sent out Christmas cards (though that’s also a lost art, as the U.S. Postal Service notes), believing the gesture covers connecting with friends and family. Nice gesture, but what about the rest of the year?   Friendship takes some work, ongoing cultivation and frequency.

One way to say hi to more friends is to think of it when traveling.

When arriving in another city I ask myself, “Who do I know here?” I check my iPhone contacts, then call or text a quick “Hey, I’m town, just saying hello.” I’ll also ask about family or job… anything to show I gave the message a little thought.

After that kind of contact, good things can happen. There are opportunities for a quick meeting over coffee or dinner. Friendships are refreshed, prayer requests are exchanged and, sometimes, new business comes from the connections. At the very least, friends are reminded that they are remembered.

Saying hello to everyone you meet, though, is more complicated. And it can be scary. There are plenty of places where a friendly howdy may send a message of “Hey, I’m ready to be mugged.” So it’s important to pick opportunities carefully.

As you see someone (even if they’re looking grumpy) passing on the street, a simple smile can make a big difference. You never know how you have a chance to brighten someone’s day.

Most people seem to be so absorbed in cell phones and other technology that they rarely look up to see others. Sometimes that leads to bad news, like a recent story of a woman who walked off the end of a pier while updating her Facebook status.

(She survived, and so did her phone.)

Another way to make a difference, and get more out of each day, is to engage in conversation with people who work in service jobs.

People who clear tables, park cars, or handle marketplace checkouts rarely have much meaningful interaction with customers. It’s usually just a parade of people in a hurry.

On a recent East Coast trip, while buying newspapers and a bottle of water at the Philadelphia airport, I struck up a chat with the man who was ringing up my purchase, “How’s your day going so far?” He said, “Great, so far! I’m blessed by God!” I didn’t see that one coming. I said, “So am I…  and what’s the best part of your work day?”

He explained how much he loved having a job, period. His attitude became more evident because a customer asked him about how HE was doing. I then noticed the next customers were much more personable,  seeming to realize that there was a real person behind the counter, not someone to be ignored or taken for granted.

Burl Ives was right. Finding ways to “say hello to friends you know, and everyone you meet” is very worthwhile. And it makes life much more interesting, throughout the year.

Mark Larson

— by Mark Larson

Larson is a longtime Southern California radio/television personality. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs mornings, 6-9 am on KCBQ 1170AM “The Answer.” He is also a news analyst on KUSI TV.  Learn more at


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