Cultural Imperialist

"Scathing Spats on Shallow Subjects"

 

Fri May 26

 

2017

 
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Greeting Expletives

Greg Piper

Ultimately our social cohesion depends on this mutually-agreed fiction that I will mouth-breathe a syllable on your behalf.

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"Let's stay in touch" - easy enough to accept sincerely without committing yourself to touching all the time.  "Please pray for me" - a little dicier, but technically you can mumble something quick and be done with it.

But the most intrusive, presumptuous obligatory request, tossed off more casually than a problematic priest's transfer papers, is "Say hi for me."  By the power of Grayskull, why can't you do it your own damn self?

If the pinnacle of the close relationship is the supercalligraphylistic letter, then SHFM is the brusque, illegible prescription note, conveying...what exactly?  That you want to remind someone that you exist and yet know nothing about their existence?

As an unseen narrator in Orange County would say, SHFM is a lot of work for a little payoff.  I have to remember that you want me to tell a person of vague importance to you something of little consequence to them, hours if not days after our verbal pact.  If you asked me to pass along "How is your father doing after his surgery?" that carries a personal connection.  I can't glibly assent to the oral tradition of the urban privileged when matters of life, death and DVRing "Glee" are at stake.  I will make a note on my phone, Moleskine or palm, which no one should be ashamed to do.

But the utter banality of SHFM means no one can reject the entreaty without seeming rude.  "Why can't you?" halts the conversation and the planned perambulation to Pinkberry.  Ultimately our social cohesion depends on this mutually-agreed fiction that I will mouth-breathe a syllable on your behalf.

Well, I'm mad at "hello" and I'm not going to state this anymore!  Neither should you.  We're all debased when we take orders that could have been delivered by a mentally-challenged autocrat.  Let's explain to our friends or not-enemies that their message must be meaningful.  Ask me to convey how much you enjoyed our mutual acquaintance's writing.  Or that their wedding photos on Facebook were beautiful.

But I won't remember, so make sure to text me.

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The Social Contract

Jeremiah Lewis

 

The bedrock of our society is manners. While policy and governance gives truth to the lie of civilization, politeness is a product of moral absolutism, from which we derive our social and cultural superiority. Without it, we are meaningless and directionless beings bereft of soul or sense of purpose. Without the social construct that manners and reciprocity brings, we cannot hope to be better than the devils of our worst nature.

So I take umbrage with those who refuse their duties in the service of carrying a greeting to friends on behalf of mutual acquaintances.

"Say 'Hi' for me" is the highest calling of casual communication, a statement of well-meaning without the strings of a potentially burdensome conversation. It is the modern equivalent of Paul's "The churches of Asia send you greetings"; while not accompanied by an epistle, the warmth of our modern pleasant but brief exchange of contact is clearly intended, and thus no small thing.

Is it such a chore to pass on a greeting to someone you both know? Are you that aristocratic that "giving a mention" is beneath you or outside your purview? Perhaps you just think it perpetuates urbane Bolshevism. Maybe you harbor illusions of morality, that the very idea of monosyllabic proxy greetings are a product of a shallow and corrupt generation.

More likely, you just lack basic social graces. You may be unable to process the unchanging mores of modern life; as Tocqueville observed, in democracies, manners are devoid of dignity, but acting according to manners causes every outward action to be dictated by "a natural elevation of thought and feeling, by delicacy and regularity of taste, and by urbanity."

Saying hi meets basic social contract requirements without binding the receiver or the messenger to any further obligation. While it does not carry much depth or meaning, the way an inquiry into someone's health or the sharing of an inside joke does, the imagined need for a message of import cripples what always has been and should be a casual exchange unfettered by feigned concern.

The exchange of pleasantries and supplication of intermediary greeting throws a pleasing charm over human nature; even if it is a hollow moment for all three parties, it cannot be viewed without satisfaction.

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