Bless you

wildflower offering in church

Had a laugh reading about protestors drowning out a pro-Trump agitator by chanting ‘bless your heart’ over the top of his shouting. We’re on a rocky road, developing our capacity to be civil to those with opposing ideologies.

I remember deciding as a kid to avoid the word “bless”. I was worried it would undermine my atheist credentials. Such a serious twelve year old. Yet somehow, I could not stop myself saying ‘bless you’ when people sneezed.

If you’re in a meeting with people you’ve just met and someone sneezes, you can rely on at least one person saying ‘bless you’. Sometimes the sneezer will respond, implicitly: ‘thank you for intending an improvement in my health, you really saved my bacon there’.

But if you’re in a library or a train and someone sneezes, no-one says boo. Apparently you need to be introduced before you’re allowed to bless someone. We seem to be designed for limited empathy with strangers, or at least, staged engagement.

I’m wondering if we could trial new social rituals that increase empathy without putting us at risk.

Consider a ‘locked conversation’, where people have a structured exchange of finite length. For example, when someone sneezes in a train, another passenger says ‘Bless Introductions’. Everyone in proximity introduces themselves, e.g. ‘I’m bret; I like sad songs’. When everyone has finished, the first person says ‘thanks everyone, I declare you introduced and I bless you all’.

And so I do.