That was how things were until early 2020. Then came the age of coronavirus and the need for social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown and shelter-in-place.
So some elder statesmen around the world are using the bonding method that they’ve learned during their state visits to India: Namaste.
Namaste around the world
In case you haven’t taken a yoga class, namaste is when you bring your hands together, palms pressed against each other, centered at your chest. Namaste is part of several yoga postures, but it is also the traditional way in which the people of India greet each other. And, since it involves no physical contact, it is virus-proof.
“I just got back from India. And I did not shake any hands there, and it was very easy because they go like this and Japan goes like this,” Trump said, demonstrating the Indian namaste and the Japanese bow. “They are ahead of the curve.”
You can use it during your video conference
Besides its no-contact benefits, there are other alluring possibilities in adopting namaste as your preferred greeting. A few years ago, as I was wrapping up a keynote to an audience of 600 executives, I felt a strong tug in my heart for the audience. They had listened to me for an hour, laughed and sighed at my stories, and, through their nods and note-taking, given a gracious reception to my ideas. I dearly wanted to hug each one of them at the end of my talk as they were applauding.
In 15 seconds, I was going to walk off stage and out of their lives forever, and I wanted to convey to each of them “I am grateful for the beautiful connection you and I made today.” How on Earth could I create this bond with 600 individuals before I rode away into the sunset?
Then, instinctively, my hands folded and the palms pressed against each other, my thumbs close to my heart. Namaste. I realized that I was doing what I would do growing up in India every time I walked into a room buzzing with friends and family. Stand still. Bow ever so slightly. Smile. Sweep the room with one namaste while looking affectionately into everyone’s eyes.
Namaste has this powerful quality of being inclusive. With namaste, you are building an instant bond with all who are gathered in your midst — not simply the one person right in front of you. It is physically impossible to achieve that with a kiss, a hug, a handshake, a high-five or an elbow bump, all of which are exclusively one-to-one. Namaste helps us to recognize that, like it or not, we are all connected; we rise and fall together. While we may choose to hug or bump elbows with just our favorites, when we offer a namaste, we are opening our heart to everyone, without discrimination. All of humanity is in our embrace.
What does ‘namaste’ even mean?
And that is not all. To understand namaste’s ultimate potential as a social bonding tool, we need to ask, “What does this strange-sounding word even mean?”
Within the word Namaste is encoded the whole philosophy of yoga. Here’s what I mean.
If I were to draw for you a line to represent the full spectrum of human nature, going from “terrible” to “terrific,” where would you place yourself on this line? Where would you place your favorite colleague? And your least favorite colleague?
Wherever you placed yourself, and wherever you placed these two colleagues, I offer that you are wrong. Because, you see, you are the whole spectrum, and so are they. Think of your worst quality, your worst behavior, your worst life moment. Now think of your best quality, your best behavior, your best life moment.
Yoga invites you to find that divine spark within yourself — the part of you that I call your “inner core”. When you operate from your inner core, you are centered, committed, connected and curious. You are able to step away from attachment, ego and insecurity to operate with wisdom and intention. You are at your full potential.
The more you discover this divine spark within your own self, the more you start seeing it all around you, in every throbbing heart, for it is innate in humanity. We all have it — we just need to work on awakening it and expressing it in all we do.
Namaste is a Sanskrit word that means “the divine spark in me bows to the divine spark in you.” In other words, it is saying, on some days, you or I may be tired, ill-behaved or deeply flawed; but today, in this moment, as we connect, I seek to offer you the best in me, and I strive to draw out the best in you.
It is now abundantly clear that we will win the war with coronavirus only if we’re all in this together. Rich have to unite with the poor, young with the old, conservatives with liberals, each nation with all others. We need to inspire not just the best in ourselves, but the best in others — including the people who, on a more average day, we may dismiss, dislike or denounce.
What better way to pursue this goal than to start and close every interaction by pressing palm against palm to gently affirm the untapped heroic potential that lies within everyone you engage with?
Because, as Gandhi once said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”