Friday, May 05, 2006

Receiving is giving

As I sat down I looked around the indlu (room). It was larger than I thought it would be and very homely. The Zulu family were very friendly and welcoming and Mr Mchunu immediately offered me something to drink. (Read more stories like this... and view our project site)

“What would you like to drink,” he asked, “ Coca cola, Sprite or Fanta?” I acted on my first thought, that I was “imposing upon them”, and declined the offer. How after all could I just arrive at their home, without invitation and cost them money to entertain me!

When I refused his offer a look of sadness crossed Baba Mchunu’s face. “Please have something,” he said and fortunately for me, my friend accepted on my behalf. As Mnumzane (Mr) Mchunu left the room, Bongamusa turned to me and said, “He wants to give you something. It is polite to accept.” As he spoke I saw a youngster sprint off in the direction of a local shop to buy our chosen cool-drink. It took me a long time to understand what had just happened.

I have grown up in a family and perhaps in a culture, that does not like to impose upon others. We have been taught not to “take advantage” of someone and to show our respect by “not being a burden to others.” We have been taught that vanity is a bad thing and we should not accept compliments lightly. If we have more than others, we give anonymously rather than receive “embarrassing compliments.”

In many African cultures the spirit of ubuntu (humanness) is shown through giving and receiving. When you allow someone to give you build a bond of friendship. When you refuse a gift you negate a friendship. My friend had saved me from breaking a future friendship. I later learned that it is not only African cultures that are brought up this way.

When I first went to visit my future wife’s home, all of the ladies in the house went to the open plan kitchen and began to prepare a meal. I remember thinking that it was strange to be making supper in mid-afternoon. The conversation carried on across the vegetables and the huge cooking pots. The rich, spicy smell of Eastern cooking was amazing and I was getting hungrier by the minute.

Then Arthie’s mum asked, “Would you like to have something to eat.” Immediately my upbringing kicked in. I was uninvited and was imposing upon their hospitality. “No thank you.” I replied. My stomach and my tastebuds were confused by my words but settled down to wait for home. It was not to be.

“Just one small bite...” began my mother-in-law to be. “Are you sure?” asked Arthie. “Come on. One small bite” prodded her mom. And eventually I relented. As I did she literally beamed with delight! I would learn too about the art of Eastern understatement as a huge multi-course meal was laid out before us.

Mrs Haripersad hovered behind me and began to ask, “Would you like some rice? Would you like some lamb curry? Would you like some roti? Can I get you some broad beans curry? Can I get...” Each time I consented she would select a huge serving spoon from its bowl and deliver food to my plate. She was in her element.

The food was delightful and plentiful. When I had finished all there was on the plate, she came swooping in. “Some more mutton?”, she asked and it appeared on the plate, near my over-full tummy. “Some more...?” I realised that I had to speak fast or my legs would soon not support my weight!

When I spoke to Arthie later, she told me that the reason that the ladies went to the kitchen was to prepare a meal just for me. As guests arrive food preparation begins! She told me that it was very important to accept an offer of food. This was a critical part of relationship building in an Indian home. She also taught me to take a little of everything so that I can have more later! And that I had “played the game well” by at first refusing the offer of food and later relenting. Lucky me!

One of our greatest opportunities to build a relationship would be to accept and sit down to a meal, or snack. Your greatest gift is to receive the food and in so doing their greater offer of friendship. People from individualistic cultures will soon get used to receiving and realize that they are not “imposing”. A simple “Yes, please”, with gentle guidance to the quantity and what your beliefs allow you to eat, will ease the way.

If you don’t eat curry or meat, say so. If your food has to be Halaal or Kosher, let your host know. If you do not drink alcohol, ask for water or a cool-drink.

In my early visits to Zulu homes I remember that by saying “Ngiyabonga.” (Thank you) when offered something, I effectively said “No thank you.” This was quite confusing as the “thank you” relates to the kindness of the offer and is a gentle way of declining the drink or food. It is a pity because I was often very hot & thirsty and, until I realised my error, I never received the offered tea or cool drink!

So, if you cannot eat or receive for any reason - in many of the community based groups - merely say “Thank you.” This gratefulness for the offer allows the gift of giving to be received, without the need to eat or drink.

These interactions with large community based families got me thinking... How often do we offer a compliment and the gift is negated?

When we say, “That is such a lovely outfit!” The answer could be, “This stupid old thing, I bought it for R10.00 at the flea-market.” Or we say, “I love the way you handled that customer.” and are answered, “I have to. I get paid to be nice.”

When that happens how do you feel? Would you share another compliment with that person, or will you steer away from saying anything good to them?

Most people will stop complimenting, or offering assistance, or inviting someone for dinner if the responses are often negative. In fact people, from many groups and cultures, would feel that their offer of friendship is being denied, and that hurts!

Food for the body builds people and friendships, as does sustenance for the soul. Compliments, praise and sharing are high on the main menu for the soul. A lot of people say that friendship is hard work. Perhaps it would be far easier if we learned how to receive. So what should we do?

Praise and compliments should be received with a humble, “Thank you.” In allowing someone to give praise, we create a world and environment where caring becomes the norm. Let’s begin to allow a giver to give, simply by receiving. Thus we honour their giving with gratitude.

And by humbly receiving, we give the greatest gift of all!

Brian V Moore©

The Art of Giving

We could see twists of smoke rising high above the trees as we drove towards mamah’s house.

Our mood was pensive as we wondered what we would find. We had just received a message that Arthie’s mamah’s (uncle’s) home had burnt to the ground. It had been in the family for more than a hundred years. We drove up a small dirt road and arrived at the still smoking remnants of the home. It was now just an open plot with the concrete floor lying open to the heavens and the afternoon shadows of the giant wattle trees. (Read more stories like this... and view our project site)

Mamah stumbled over. He was totally distraught and clung to me crying, "We have lost everything. It’s all gone. All gone."

I held him until he was a little calmer. His wife and children wandered around looking for any items that may have been spared. They were in shock and tearful. They had lost their life-long belongings and all the recent purchases of gold jewellery and clothing for their daughter’s up-coming wedding. A Hindi wedding is an expensive affair and they had committed their life’s savings to the purchases. All they now owned were the clothes that they wore. It was a huge tragedy as nothing had been insured.

As onlookers and helpers milled around the dusty smoking site, I wondered what would happen to the family. I had forgotten the nature of Hindu people. A nearby neighbour had already opened up their home and space had been made for the whole family and huge support was already at hand. I turned to Arthie, in private and said, "We have to help them. I have a lot of clothes at home that I can give to mamah." She nodded and I knew that my words were not necessary. That decision had already been made.

We went home and I began to look through the clothes that I no longer used, or for items that did not fit me any longer. When I turned to Arthie, I saw that she had begun packing brand-new clothes for the girls. "Arts," I asked, "why are you giving away your new clothes? We just bought them a few days ago."

She then said something that will stay with me forever, "How would you feel if you had just lost your home and you had to wear second hand clothes. New, fashionable clothes will make them feel special." She gently added, "If you give away something it has far more value if it is something you really wanted to keep." Into the suitcase went all of her new clothes, new toothbrushes, toothpaste, a cuddly cat and new deodorant.

I looked at my pile and realised that my gift would not make anyone feel special on such a tragic day. I then began to find items that would raise my spirit if I were in mamah’s place. My mind wrestled with my resolve as some of my favourite items went in to the suitcase.

As I worked I thought how different this was to my own upbringing and my mind went back to the scene. It seemed as if the news had been painted on the sky for all to see. A continuous stream of family and friends had arrived bringing love, care, support and assistance. And just as we were leaving for home, another family member had arrived with two plastic-wrapped beds atop a delivery van. Brand new gifts - just for the family.

Months after the fire we visited the family. They were now fairly well settled. One of the girls said to Arthie. "You really made us feel really special. You thought of everything. Clothes, toothbrushes, deodorant and most of all that cuddly cat was exactly like the one I had lost in the fire. It was if you had read our minds!"

It is moments like this that I again realise that my wife is truly special and that there are many lessons to be learnt from her and from other cultures.

From the moment we met our path has been one of growth and learning. We jointly bring something truly special to our relationships and through our work we will leave a powerful and positive legacy of humanness in the world.

Brian V Moore© Durban, South Africa

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Names and Naming

The Incredible Relevance of Names and Naming

Although this post is aimed at building relationships and respect in South Africa, it may have great relevance elsewhere in the world. Please visit our info site and project site for more similar articles.

It is amazing how something as simple as a name, has the potential for uniting or alienating people. A greater understanding of how and why people are named, and the relevance of names, may assist in improving respect and thereby relationships. This is a brief look at this topic.

People from European ancestry generally select names for their children from lists of names, currently popular names, family names or after friends. Often the names of currently famous people are chosen for the new-born, for example soccer supporters may choose David - for David Beckham, and a girl may be called Davidia! Other more "New Age" families may choose names from nature, such as "Storm" or "Sky". Or, to secure the child’s future, names such as "Peace" or "Amor."

Names often have deeper meanings, Brian means "the Brave" and Liam comes from William, which in turn comes from the German "Wilhelm" - meaning "unwavering protector." There are many books listing the origins and meaning of such names.

Religion plays a strong role and names from the Bible come to the fore in Christian-based societies. Take for instance France, where a child may only be named after a Catholic saint, note the names of Jean, Jean-Pierre, Henri etc.

Amongst Afrikaners, family names are often chosen. Many of these names have been in the family for centuries. A school friend of mine was named Antonie Gerhardus Wilhelmus van Antena Coetzee, the respect for ancestry is evident in his naming. Often friends would abbreviate long names to initials, for example Pieter Kornelius van Jaarsveld may become know as PK.

Certain groups of people have a pre-disposition to abbreviate a person’s name. Richard becomes Rich, Rick or Dick. Theodore becomes Theo, Teddy or Ted. William could be Will, Bill, Willie or Billy! Perhaps this can be ascribed to this cultural group’s strong focus on time. It is seen to be "friendly" to use a less formal name. This attempt to "build" relationships often has the opposite effect.

Another interesting habit is that of asking for "an easier name". "Please give me a name that I can pronounce." When given a name that at first sounds difficult to the ear, an attempt may be made to shorten the name or in the past the person was asked for an "English" name.

This went even further as many South African and Africa-based priests, when baptising a child, would give the child "an easier name". This was in addition to the chosen name given by the child’s parents. In South Africa these names were invariably English in English-speaking areas and Afrikaans, in Afrikaans-speaking areas.

African names, given by parents, have relevance to the prevailing circumstances within the family, the community or the country when that child is born. As such African names are of critical relevance and normally commemorate the order of birth, an event in society, an event in the family... Dr. Bruce Bennett, a senior lecturer at the University of Botswana ( has this to say..
"Concerning Setswana and SeSotho names. The first point to note is that the classic way of naming people in most Southern African societies was different from the western pattern of having a set of established names from which you choose. Rather, names were CREATED for each individual. They often marked some event, either about the birth or just current events.

This is similar to what you read in the Old Testament, "therefore he was given the name ----, because ----" i.e. a name marks an event. The event is NOT necessarily positive. E.g. when the colonial authorities first introduced poll tax many people were named after it - it was the big event of the time.

Many of the names require complex explanation, as they literally mean things like "they are eating", "witchcraft", "trouble" etc. etc. and the meaning really requires an explanation of the circumstances.

However, I should say that there IS also a tradition of names used either because a child is named after someone else or names used almost like western customary names. For example "Mpho", = "gift", is a very common name. It does imply that the child is being welcomed as a gift, but it is almost a customary name like "Mary" or "John". However I would say that even in this case the meaning is much more in the foreground than would be the case for a westerner."

Another example is the naming of the famous Zulu King Shaka kaSenzangakhona, this comes from: "Shaka was born in 1787. His father was Senzangakhona kaJama, chief of the Zulu people, who lived in the Mkhumbane valley, south of the White Mfolozi river. Shaka's mother, Nandi, was betrothed to his father at the time she fell pregnant, but they were not yet married. When she first reported this fact the Zulu elders indignantly dismissed her claims, suggesting instead that she was suffering from an intestinal parasite, a stomach beetle called 'ishaka'. When her son was born, she ruefully named him Shaka in recollection of this insult."

In the USA, and in recent years in South Africa, it has become the norm to ask for a person’s first name and use that in order to de-formalise and build relationships. This is seen to be more "friendly". (In the USA school system, when speaking to, about or amongst adults, the use of the more formal Mr and Mrs is the norm - particularly when referring to teachers and the Dean)

It is not polite, or acceptable, in many African cultures, to greet a married person by his/her first name - be it and African or Western name. Generally it far more important to use that person’s surname or most important ancestor’s name. Amongst the Zulus it is respectful and honourable to address them by their isi(izi)thakazelo (praise name/s). (The use of first names is acceptable and expected for unmarried people in these groups - or by their parents of married people.)

For example, Ndlovu would be known as Gatsheni; and Khuzwayo as Gumede. A married lady would be addressed as Mrs (Nkosikazi) followed by their married surname, or by her maiden surname/ isithakazelo eg. as MaNdlovu, MaGatsheni or MaKhuzwayo or MaGumede. The married AmaXhosa ladies would similarly be addressed as Mrs (Nkosikazi), followed by their married surname, or by her maiden surname MamaRabebe/ MaRadebe - or by her isiduko - MamaMthimkhulu/ MaMthimkhulu.

This is hugely respectful because of the importance of respecting one’s ancestors in most African cultures. (Surnames and ancestral names guide Nguni people on which families they can, or can’t marry into.)

We received this feedback from a delegate in a Celebrating Humanity© courses: "Thank you for making me believe in myself and to re-unite me with my roots and not to try and comprise my own name for other people. As of today I will start reclaiming my name back which was unlawfully destroyed by the system of the past."

Some people often automatically offer their "Western/ English" name and never give others the opportunity to learn their traditional or preferred name/s. I found that in Zambia my respect for culture and ability to speak African languages opened people up to share their African names.

Names are very relevant to South Africans of Indian descent. (Many of whom have surnames which were mis-spelt by the British administrators, upon the arrival of the 1st indentured Indian labourers in 1860.)

When a child is born to a Hindu family, the family makes an appointment with the Brahman (Hindu priest) to "open the book". A letter of the alphabet is allocated to the parents, according to the alignment of the planets and various other spiritual aspects which relate to the child’s time of birth. From this letter a name is chosen - normally with religious importance. "Arthi,
Arthie or Aarti" all pronounced the same way, mean "Flame" and these girls are named after a very important Hindu prayer. Each Hindi child is also given a secret Rasi name, revealed only to the parents, chosen by a Brahman from the Panchan a holy book.

South African Hindus often have shortened versions of their names to make it easier for people to pronounce and to remember. Rajendran may be known as Raj... Aniel may become Neil.


Namkaran is the traditional Hindu Indian practise of naming the baby child. Nama literally means 'name' and karana means 'to make, to effect'.

The Namkaran is held at home or in a temple where the father of the child whispers the name in the child's right ear. The ceremony usually takes place on the twelfth day after birth. Choosing a Hindu name is a difficult process. Friends and relatives are invited celebrate the namkaran ceremony.

According to the Grihyasutras, there are 5 requisites to selecting a name for the baby. This is the name that the child is will be called. It depends on the culture, religion & education of the family, and should be auspicious.
1. The name of the baby should be easy to pronounce and sound pleasant.
2. The baby name should contain a specified number of syllables and vowels.
3. The name should indicate the sex of the baby.
4. The baby' name should signify wealth, fame or power.
5. The name should be suggestive of the caste of the family."

Hindu surnames often indicate caste or profession although, in South Africa, a person’s caste no longer holds the same relevance as it does in India. For example people with the surnames Patel and Soni are often in the Jewellery trade. A Brahman comes from the Maharaj family - thus a Brahman is often known as the "Maharaj."

In the Muslim community names are mostly chosen for religious relevance and/ or deeper meanings. Names of the Prophet’s wives are sometimes used for females and the males are sometimes named after other religious figures.

For example some male names and meanings:- Malih: A reciter of Quran was so called. Malik: Master.

Some female names and meanings:- Fatimah: A daughter of the Prophet (PBUH) Fatinah: Captivating, alluring, intelligent. Fawzia: Success, Salvation.
Note: (S.A.W - is an abbreviation of the Arabic "salalaahu alayhi wassallum" translated as "peace be upon him" (PBUH.) When the Prophet’s (PBUH) name is used, by followers of Islam, it is usually followed with this blessing.

From "One should always remember that the name given to a child is his/her first gift in life. Therefore please always choose names that have pleasant and beautiful meanings just like our Prophet (SAW) did.

People name their children to distinguish them from others. The child must be named on the seventh day. According to a Hadith a child must be named promptly on birth. The name must be meaningful. "You will be called by your name on the day of judgment" this is another reason why it is important to chose a name with good meaning. The prophet was very particular about it and he always changed names that were derogatory. An example is that he changed Aasiyah (disobedient) into Jameelah (beautiful).

A child must not be given the name of Allah unless it is compounded with Allah. According to a Hadith the worst of men on the day of judgement will be one who is called Shahinshah. only Allah Ta'ala is king of kings or Shahinshah; Kingdom belongs to him alone.

Further parents must make sure that the names they select signify servitude to Allah alone and to no one else. They must not append bondage even to the name Nabi. Names that reflect love or romance must not be used either. The Prophet has suggested names of the Prophets or
Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. He has said, "Keep the names of the noble Prophets, Allah loves most the names Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. The most truthful names are Harith and Humam, while the most disliked are Harb and Murrah (war and bitter)."

To some people names are not of great relevance - my late father used to say, "You can call me anything but don’t call me late for breakfast!". On the other hand to many people names are of critical relevance. It takes very little time to learn a new name with it’s "different" sounds and practice makes perfect!

All it takes is a simple question, "How would you prefer me to address you?" And if it seems "difficult", try and try again until you get it right! The simple use of a person’s true (or chosen) name/s will lay a great foundation for future relationships!

Brian Moore©

For more info on Celebrating Humanity, Diversity Training, Workplace Diversity, Diversity Training, Managing Diversity or Diversity Management e-mail: or visit, or

Monday, February 21, 2005

Baboons laugh at each others' foreheads

Baboons laugh at each others’ foreheads...

It was 1996 and I was head over heels in love. A love that was only possible in the latter stages of the Apartheid era and the New South Africa. My girlfriend and soul mate was stunningly beautiful, amazing, somewhat younger than me and from a different culture and religion. I was on a delightful and somewhat belated path to a new life with my first and only wife. (Read more stories like this... and view our project site)

I spoke to Arthie about our age difference. Did she understand what could happen in the future?

Was she sure that I was who she wanted to be with? Time hung like wind-blown feathers in the sky as my entire spirit secretly begged that she would say, "Yes!" She answered, "I want to spend the rest of my time with you, my love. Forever and ever!" I was eternally blessed!

Initially, when we went out in public together I would not hold her hand. Yet when we were together in a safe place I did. There were many reasons for this strange behaviour and I had not yet worked them out. Arthie asked me why and I slowly overcame my resistance and began to hold her hand.

Bi-cultural relationships were not very common and people often had something to say. Some went so far as to point and openly gossip. Somewhere deep within me a need to save Arthie from these "racists" began to emanate in my behaviour.

At about this time I began to notice people who were "obviously" judging our relationship, or Arthie. Thoughts began to rage inside my head. "Who do they think they are?", "What gives them the right to judge us!", "Arthie is as good as any one of you!" One day I even heard an Indian man say, "Typical whites they always take the young pretty ones!" He was lucky to survive my outburst.

It became my mission to "protect" my beautiful Arthie from all and sundry. I now began to walk with a warm hand in mine, looking outwardly for the "judges." I searched for people who had "something to say." As soon as I noticed a finger pointing in our direction I would point back and loudly ask Arthie, "Do you know those people?" The world was full of racists and I was going to fix them!

My behaviour reached an all time low one day in the local mall. A group of what I perceived to be cool-girls sat at an ice-cream parlour. One of them turned towards us and began to laugh and point, calling her friends to look in our general direction. I took a strong hold on Arthie’s hand and said, "Come!"

With Arthie in tow, I arrived in front of the "offending" group and announced, "OK girls, it is your turn to stare and say what you have to say. When you are finished we will do the same to you." There was a stunned silence followed by a babble of denial. Having made "my point" I walked off with a bemused Arthie, who then had to listen to my justifications.

A time came when I suddenly realised how much better people were becoming in South Africa. I had not noticed anyone pointing for months. Nobody seemed to be noticing us anymore. The racists were all gone. We were in a new country!

As time went by I began to realise that the only thing that had changed was me. I had suddenly fallen so much in love with Arthie, with our relationship and with our being together that I never saw anyone else. I was so totally in her presence and with her that nothing else mattered! It took me a long time to take these realisations to the next level.

The reason that I had seen all of the "racists" is because I was still programmed to see everything from a race and age perspective. In stronger terms it was easy for a racist to find other racists. Yes, the problem was my own deeply etched racism and I could blame no-one else.

The Zulus have a saying, "Izimfene ziyahlekane izipongo." which is matched by the Setswana saying, "Tshwene ga e i pone makopo." which both mean that "baboons ridicule each others’ foreheads." The message - what you don’t like in others is often your own and personally unobserved fault.

I resolved to look at the results that I was getting in my life from various relationships. If the relationship was bad, what was the attitude that I was showing in that relationship? If it was good, what was I doing right? I began to identify the people who had attitudes towards me.

I suddenly saw that the attitude I perceived in them was as much mine as theirs. I identified a member of my family who "always felt that he was superior to me" and I realised that it was my feeling of inferiority that was the problem, and not his attitude. When I became happy with my self, all superior people disappeared.

I began to observe others and noticed that "troublemakers" always blamed others for causing trouble with, and for them. I noticed that people who were the least accepting of criticism were often the most critical. I began to see that people with great attitudes received rave reports and people naturally gravitated towards them.

The lessons became quite simple. If you see many racists - perhaps you are a racist. If you think that others perceive you to be inferior perhaps you feel inferior. If you find many difficult people - perhaps you are difficult. If you have a problem with others - perhaps you are the problem. If you think others don’t like you for your perceived disability/ inability, perhaps you don’t like yourself for that very reason.

Thus, if you are achieving great success in your relationships - perhaps you have a great attitude.

All the religions say quite clearly, in various ways. "treat others as you wish to be treated." This is true of your attitudes. Somehow, we always get back a bigger dose of what we put out. And if we are fishing in the sea of life, perhaps we need to cast out the kind of bait that will attract good. To attract respect bait up with respect!

Yes, our best bait will always be our best attitudes.

Brian Moore©
Mthimkhulu International

For more stories and articles please visit e-mail brian on


PS. I am still deeply in love with Arthie and will be forever! We are heading towards our 4th and 5th weddings! She is incredible and so too is our son Lliam!

Celebrating Humanity - Opening Hearts

Opening hearts and building friendships.

"Bonjour", I greeted the salesperson in Paris. Next to me the voice of the little man spoke clearly, "Bonjour! Ça va?" I smiled as the lady beamed at him and said Ça va bien! Et vous?"

As we moved through Italy, Switzerland and Austria he perfectly copied the words that he heard! "Buongiurno! Buonasera! Arrivederci! Guten morgen. Guten abend! Ciao," echoed by my side. The local people were always delighted and excited and showered him with friendship and love. (Read more stories like this... and view our project site)

In London, we were walking towards the underground train platform. I heard what I thought could be Zulu being spoken by two men. I excitedly moved up alongside them to hear if it was true. Suddenly a loud voice boomed out next to me, "Sanibonani! Dumela! (Zulu and Sesotho/ Setswana greetings.")

The men stopped and looked at him, in disbelief. I then greeted them in Zulu and they beamed. Contact had been made. South Africans together in London. We spent the entire tube trip chatting, in Zulu, about home and their lives in London. The little man had opened the way again!

And little he is. Just a month away from his 4th birthday our son Lliam can greet in about 20 languages! Including English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sesotho, Sepedi, Setswana, Tsonga, French, Italian, German, Xhosa, Chichewa, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Gujerati, Arabic, Hebrew, Chibemba and Township slang!

And if you know Lliam you will also know that he will greet people in any of the World’s languages. He only has to hear the greeting once!

Yes, he has learnt the power of greeting people in their own language to the extent where he asks people, "How must I speak to you?" A simple question indeed. "How should I greet you?"

It is the starting point of all across language/ culture friendships and the beginning of a lifetime of language learning.

He has also learnt to greet respectfully in many local languages. People who are older are called uncle or aunt, mother or father in their own languages. When he meets our local car guard, he says in Afrikaans, "Hallo Oom." And to his uncles and aunts he greets in Hindi, "Namaste Maamah/ Maamee."

He has yet to get his tone and his volume right and as he grows up he will learn the importance of both in respect. Nevertheless he is already on a path towards great friendships and relationships. Arthie and I know this well.

When we go to a new country, we always learn the basics of greetings, thanks and goodbyes. This opens up opportunities for us to learn more and to spend more time developing friendships and understanding.

The next step is to take the time to learn how to pronounce people’s names properly. Arthie and I met a Nigerian man in London. The name he gave us was very western. "What do people call you at home we asked? "Olatunde." he responded. With a little practice we began to use his name.

Upon our return to South Africa we found an e-mail from Olatunde inviting us to work in his country. We were delighted to have become his friend in such a short time.

Lliam has been our greatest teacher from birth and he carries that on every day in the way that he is. Is he naughty? Is he cheeky? Yes, of course, he is a child after all! And his life is one of testing and breaking physical, societal and communication boundaries and barriers.

In his purity and total lack of teenage and adult fears he crosses many perceived borders and achieves many amazing things. He has danced with the Zulus, to the bagpipes and to Hindi music. He has sung his way through the streets of Venice, Paris, London and Edinburgh. And he never stops learning!

And that is perhaps his greatest lesson to "bigger" people.

On an overnight train from Paris to Firenze (Florence) I overheard a young lady say to the Italian bar person, "Just speak to me in English. I don’t speak your language." All she needed to know was the price of the goods. It was clearly displayed on the till!

I watched as she battled to get service later. The young lady met frustration with frustration and eventually returned to her sleeper car. We found the bar person to be very friendly and open. All we did was greet and thank her in Italian. And we read the till for the cost of service!

We live in multi-lingual countries and a multi-lingual world. To live in the hope that we will only build strong and lasting relationships in our birth languages is to live in denial. And to believe that "my language is the only language", is to deny ourselves the experiences of a wonderfully diverse world.

As tiny children we all learnt thousands of words in a language which was foreign to us. Even the concept of language was not yet in our understanding. Look how swiftly we learnt our mother tongue and how easily the language came to be a part of our being. Why then are so many of us are scared to learn a new greeting or language?

And getting the greeting right is one of the easiest ways to touch another soul and open another heart.

Take a lesson from Lliam and begin the process of learning to greet correctly and learning to pronounce peoples’ names and you too will find a new warmth in the world. A warmth that started with you.

Brian V Moore - January 30, 2005

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