Manners & Misdemeanors
On the Way Out: The Dos and Don'ts of Saying Goodbye
Filipinos seem to clock the longest goodbye. Our extended farewells even influence the design of our public buildings.
IMAGE COLLAGE Yzabella Cruz
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Leaving a party or a relationship requires time to complete. It is not just an expression of sadness but also a demonstration of good feelings over times past. This desire to be on good terms even with people we have to leave behind allows us to use a long goodbye and the kiss that goes with it as a sort of vague promise of a reunion of sorts, even when this is remote, or perhaps impossible.

Maybe, the first goodbye kiss took place in Gethsemane. This one involved identifying a target for the authorities to arrest and made an example of. This particular farewell promised no vague appointments for lunch. It is also not a socially accepted form of betrayal, with or without the crowing of cocks.

Lovers sometimes use letters which are referred to as “Dear John”. The term originated from World War II when a soldier receiving such a letter learned of his wife’s or girlfriend’s change of heart and new plans with someone else (You remember Fred, our neighbor?). The formal salutation hints at the cruelty of the message—we did have some good times together, but I found somebody funnier and with longer fingers.

Separation is by degrees. There are those who can never say goodbye, and others who can’t wait to be gone.

In the first balcony scene, Juliet delivers her goodbye kiss with the immortal words—“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow…that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.” Not everyone can end a scene with a couplet, even those schooled in the classics. The lines may be mistaken for comic relief.

In the corporate world, the goodbye ritual is called an exit interview. Management seems curious to know why employees leave. The exit interview is designed to draw out the motives behind a departure not reflected in a dry, maybe even angry, resignation letter. There seems to be a compulsion to discover extraneous reasons for resignations like migration plans to Vancouver or the call of a family business. Migration, at the top of the list for reasons, seems to be an accepted basis for departure and does not reflect on any shortcoming of an organization. Joining a competitor rings different bells.

But what about departures initiated by management (push factors) which are becoming more common than greener pastures (pull factors)? Is there still need to interview targets of a redundancy program? After all, their fingers hanging on precariously to the edge of the window sill have been stomped quite vigorously to allow gravity to do its work—do you feel a light breeze on your hair?

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Parting words carry a fervent wish for faring well. Goodbye is, after all, a contraction of “God be with you.”

The exit interview is an opportunity to explain the reasons of management for a headcount reduction without having to resort to slides. Emphasis on the pain of the process softens the emotional blow. (We really wanted a place for a whiner in our organization, but no one wanted to provide handkerchiefs.) The small investment in time, though unpleasant and tiring, can reduce, but not eliminate, the bad-mouthing of the company afterward.

It is important not to go overboard in assuring an outgoing executive of the company’s undying affection. Phrases to avoid include the following—a) Let us know what we can do for you; b) Do not hesitate to call us in case you need help; c) Our doors will always be open to you; and d) Let’s have lunch sometime. While such expressions of goodwill engender a pleasant atmosphere, the implied assurance to provide help can be taken literally. This will only lead to feelings of betrayal when the endearments are not followed up by even the desire for action.

Why is everybody suddenly interested in what the dispatched manager plans to do with the rest of his life after he gets his check?

The ideal occasion for an exit interview is when the separation check is handed over, especially if this is generous. Whatever pain the unexpected firing has engendered is assuaged by money even in this low-interest regime.

After the ax has figuratively severed protrusions above the shoulder, there comes a series of courtesy visits from colleagues (I just want to wish you luck) and despedida parties complete with video messages up to the actual exit day. Why is everybody suddenly interested in what the dispatched manager plans to do with the rest of his life after he gets his check?

As a people, we seem to clock the longest goodbye.

The French don’t even bother. They just disappear from the scene without much ado, hence the term “French leave”. There is little curiosity among the French on where the guests seem to have gone, merely recognition of fewer and fewer people milling around the bar. And when only the hostess and her family who reside there are left, it is the signal to clear the table and call it a night.

With us, it seems that a person leaving a party is somehow betraying the cause of happiness and hastening the end of the festivities. She is escorted out, doing several stops to exchange final words with other guests on the way to the door and additional stops on the way to the gate, with a final wave from the window of her car. This version of the Stations of the Cross (He consoles the weeping women of Jerusalem) is the standard vanilla departure.

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It is not just an expression of sadness but also a demonstration of good feelings over times past.

The extended goodbye influences the architectural design of public buildings. Airports need to accommodate well-wishers seeing off a relative or friend going abroad, especially when a long absence is entailed. This recognition of an elaborate leave-taking requires driveways wide enough to allow longer stops to disgorge people from rented buses and minivans as well as allow traffic to flow. Years earlier, viewing decks were afforded to well-wishers to wait for the designated plane to take off and conjure an imaginary hand waving from one of the portholes. But with travel becoming routine for more people, the driveway is enough.

Hospitals too offer beds disguised as sofas. Extra meals are provided for stay-in visitors. Showing concern for the sick by fussing over them continuously may be scoffed at by other cultures—how can you possibly help out? You’re just getting in the way of the nurses and doctors. This innate reluctance to surrender the sick to the hospital’s tender mercies, even if they are in a coma, gives our people the DNA for good caregivers, prized in those societies that leave their sick (and healthy) to fend for themselves.

Wakes stretch for days. Relatives and friends go daily to condole, and prayers extend for nine days. These are followed by more goodbyes at the ninth-day party, the fortieth-day get-together, and if people have forgotten, the death anniversary a year after. Stretching goodbyes offers a form of healing.

Separation is by degrees. There are those who can never say goodbye, and others who can’t wait to be gone. Parting words carry a fervent wish for faring well. Goodbye is, after all, a contraction of “God be with you.” The French adieu also suggests this implicit prayer for divine protection.

God is invoked even in any kind of parting. The sigh of relief is unmistakable—thank God, he’s finally gone.                     

                        

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A.R. Samson
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