“You’re a good kisser,“ said the young mother to me as I released her from our cheek-to-cheek good-bye.
We were a group of women who had just finished a health lesson in a tent. I gave her a quizzical smile in response to this unusual compliment. She explained through the translator that I didn’t kiss out of obligation. Instead, she always felt genuine warmth.
(She explained through the translator that my kisses and hugs were not perfunctory. Instead…)
In this culture women greet each other with an obligatory cheek-to-cheek touch while kissing in the air. First once with right cheeks, then twice with the left.
Whether a hug or a cheek-touch with kiss into the air, it doesn't matter, people can tell when you are being genuine. They can tell if you really care about them as an individual or you are merely performing a duty.
Children and teenagers seem to have a keen sense of awareness on insincerity and artificiality. So do people who are being marginalized by society. They’ve gotten used to not being wanted. Instead they are barely tolerated and people look past them. This is when authenticity and genuine caring become vital.
What does genuineness really look like? Actually, it is quite simple.
You look into someone's face; you see their eyes. You hear someone’s words and listen to the hearts from where the words came. You cry with their sorrow and laugh with their jokes. You smile with both your mouth and your eyes.
But I’m human. I’m not capable of caring all the time. I get distracted, selfish and worn-down. Over the years I learned that genuine caring sometimes takes intentionality. It takes some prep work on my part.
It starts before I leave home. I take time to think through my own attitudes and usually discover they need some adjustments.
- I become mindful of my motivations
- I am wary of my own prejudices.
- I remind myself to love without self-protection, without walls, without looking through filters.
- I choose to lay aside selfish pride. (This one is the hardest.)
It really all ends up being about humility and selflessness.
It boils down to “Love your neighbor like yourself.” I intentionally remind myself that my “neighbor” has as much dignity and value as I do. I remember that we are fellow humans full of feelings and intelligence and creativity.
When I meet someone I choose not to concentrate on their dilapidated tent structure, their uneven floor, their dirty feet, their mismatched clothes, their cracked fingernails, their greasy hair, their body odor or bad breath. Instead, I look into their eyes. And I find someone like me.
Then it becomes easy to genuinely love. My cheek-to-cheek greeting lingers a split second longer and I hug the woman. And she knows that she is loved.
About the Author: Christine is an IDEAS Associate and community health professional in Lebanon, working among refugee communities. She is kind, compassionate, smart and gives excellent hugs. Read more of Christine's work here: Finding Home When You Live Overseas.