A while back when I was in graduate school getting my PhD in psychology, there were some cool psychology research studies that looked at how people said goodbye to each other at airports. The studies would look at how long people hugged for, who tended to hug, and who smiled. At times those studies then correlated that data with relationship status, personality traits and gender. Some studies found that those that knew each other less time tended to be the ones that hugged and hugged longer. One is left to wonder if such findings could still be replicated today. Considering that many flights now have wi-fi access and subsequent email, Facebook and Twitter reach, many people get in touch pretty soon after flight take-off. In such modern times, is goodbye even meaningful anymore?
Of course, there is still the fear many have of air travel not being safe and thus that goodbye can still be meaningful. It can be a last time. Morbid? Yes, but that goodbye is still laced with that fear. Yet, even with that fear of an unknown fate, we don’t go with many individuals anymore to the airport to see them off. In New York, admittedly, it is very hard to do so because of the traffic. If you are traveling internationally, you have to head out to JFK airport which is quite a haul. Then that person dropping off the traveler has a long way back to go. Time-wise and logistically, people just don’t do the airport drop-off that readily in New York City.
These days, we get dropped off by an Uber driver who sometimes wishes us goodbye and a safe flight. We go through security where we sometimes get a hello but more often than not get a grunt and a skeptical eye.
It can definitely lead to some quiet moments at the gate where you catch up with television shows and emails.
There was also a time when people said hello at the airports. There was a time when one could actually wait at the gate for someone to arrive. We would wait so that we could squeal hello and be glad that someone landed safely. There was that excitement as you landed and gathered the bags. There was an excitement stepping out of the tunnel and out of the terminal gate anticipating that there was someone waiting. Now, we step off and race each other to the cab line. I suppose that we do at times say goodbye to the flight crew but that is occasional and now we get surveyed a few days after a flight as to how the flight crew greeted us and said goodbye. So much for authenticity. I also read somewhere that many of the flight crew say hello to us to size up how we will act as passengers and if they have an ally or someone to worry about. Again, so much for authentic interpersonal relations.
On a slightly different note, I was struck recently by an elevator interaction I had. I got into a medical office elevator by myself. It then stopped at the third floor an in came in a medical doctor (the stethoscope and scrubs were the indicators). I looked up as he entered the elevator so say hello. However, he kept his eyes down and ignored me. I shrugged to myself and just stepped further into the elevator. Then the elevator stopped at the fifth floor and he stepped out. As he left, he said goodbye over his shoulder. I was a bit weirded out by that. He didn’t bother to say “hello” yet he bothered to say “goodbye.” I still don’t understand it.
What is more important in such an interaction: hello or goodbye? As I ask myself that question, I have come to conclude that a goodbye may actually have more impact. In particular, if you wish the person a good day ahead, a goodbye can have great impact. Perhaps even more than hello. But what is a goodbye without a hello? What is a goodbye without a beginning?
Nowadays, both a true hello and goodbye is a fairly rare occurrence in life overall.