As I See It… 6-11

By Sue Ellen Hozmen  

“Hello,” I said to the new vendor at the Lansing City Market last month.
    “Hello,” he said.  “What are you?”
    “Human being,” I answered.
    “No, I mean are you Italian or Greek?”
    And so it went.  It was his personal research attempt to identify me in a group affiliation or kinship.  I bought his product anyway.
    Greeting strangers changes as we age.  Parents of new talkers only require that they greet with “hi” or “hello”.  That works very well from about 12 to 18 months.  By two to three years old children can string a few words together.  So if three-year old Adam or Eve is on the floor playing Legos and a new three year old enters the play area Adam or Eve will probably greet him or her with “wanna play Legos?”
    That changes dramatically as we age.  “Wanna play Legos?” changes to “What do you do?” or “Do you know so and so?” or “Do you belong to such and such?”
    Why does it change?  It’s primal.  We observe and are taught not to trust strangers.  It’s all about deciding if the person is an insider or an outsider.  Group affiliation or kinship is something we develop in class, party, business, religion, profession, gender, sexual orientation and on and on.  Why?  Originally, according to anthropologists, it was a technique to ensure group unity and cohesion essential for survival in a hostile environment.  Of course, that started around 30,000 years ago when we sorta looked like we do now.  Then it fine tuned to support distribution of power, or lack of distribution of power and reproductive distribution. Well, it is not 30,000 years ago.  So, it is appropriate to ask the question “Is it still useful to identify group affiliation as a primary part of our greeting new people in our lives?”
    I guess it depends on your goals.  If your goal for success is to be a hermit than someone else’s group affiliation wouldn’t matter.  Hermits don’t meet as groups. 
    If your goal for success is to be an alpha male or alpha female, the head honcho, than it will be very important to develop a congregation that looks to you for leadership.
    If you want to be incredibly rich and you weren’t born into that caste system than you need to work hard at group affiliation with people who are already there.
    But what if you are just at the coffee shop and meet someone new and your life goals aren’t top of your agenda.  Why do you still ask, “What do you do?”  In my minority world I’m asked if I know any other Jewish person on the planet.  It’s often assumed that all minorities know each other.  You do it because you have come to expect that specific group affiliations identification makes you feel more comfortable.
    The question is, “Does it still benefit us to immediately identify group affiliation?”  If we identify “US” as the six billion on the planet right now then we need to recognize that we have one sun, one moon and one planet currently available to us.  The United Nations addressed this question and came up with these millennium goals:
1.    Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2.    Achieve universal primary education
3.    Promote gender equality and empower women
4.    Reduce child mortality
5.    Improve maternal health
6.    Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7.    Ensure environmental sustainability
8.    Develop a global partnership for development

    Asking me “what are you?’ or if I know any other Jewish people? will probably not help in achieving the millennium goals.
    Perhaps it’s time for the What Do You Say After Hello Revolution.  Why not notice that the other person is a human being just like you.  Why not notice that trust is the first step in relationship development.   As babies grow, they learn that they are not the center of the universe and that they can depend on others. They develop a trust or mistrust of others.  Why not choose trust?  Why not approach the other human being with a greeting that may develop trust?
    So, what could we say after “hello”? How about, “wanna play Legos?”

Suellen Hozman describes herself as a human being, mother, daughter, grandmother, friend and student of life.  She is an artist, photographer, and writer.  Please visit her website at  Or have a cup of coffee or tea and conversation with her at The Caffe in Lopez Bakery or email her at