How do we rate our relationships?

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

My father popped into his office reception area, greeting the gentleman waiting to see another staff member with, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” the man replied.

Heading down the hall, my father was stopped by another staff member who had overheard the brief conversation.

“I see you met a one-star person,” she said.

“A one-star what?”

“A one-star person,” she repeated. “You decided that person was only one-star.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” she replied, “we star people. A one-star person is one to whom you simply say, ‘Good morning.’ A two-star person is one to whom you say, ‘Good morning.’ He responds, then you add another star. ‘How are you today?'”

“Then,” she continued, “there’s the three-star person. You greet him, ask how he is, then inquire about his family or an interest.”

“With a four-star person,” she explained, “you greet him, ask how he is, inquire about an interest and then say, ‘what do you think’ about a topic, soliciting an opinion. You go beyond the usual chit-chat, acknowledging that you value his judgment and recognize his worth.”

It was a startling point then, some 15 years ago, that is even more complex now.

Do we really reveal how we value a person by our greetings?

Granted, our responses may sometimes be situation-based, influenced by time and circumstance. We may value this person but not have time for a four-star exchange.

Nevertheless, how we interact with people does reflect how we value them. And in this age of interrupt-driven conversations, getting through traditional pleasantries can be more challenging than ever.

We live in an age where the beeps, buzzes and glow of mobile devices have fostered a self-made attention-deficit syndrome. Multi-tasking rules. Instant updates are not only accepted, but often expected, somehow giving permission to carry on two private conversations at once.

One gifted family member can buffer an entire paragraph of conversation while he wraps up a text, tweet, or Facebook post before responding to me when I am sitting right in front of him.


Forget stars. I feel like a foot-noted asterisk!

Being present no longer guarantees our full presence, as we grant those absent the same attention of those who have made the effort to show up in person.

How rude.

But whether stars or asterisks, it’s still about worth. How do we value others? How do we show them how we feel about their worth?

Perhaps we need a new star system based on undivided attention, with a four-star rating being unplugged, eyes on me, and thumbs kept where I can see them.

As we enter this holiday season, perhaps it is time to renew our commitment to be fully present to those who have made the effort to be right in front of us.

Eyes up. Thumbs down. Ears ready to listen and learn.

Relationships depend on a willingness to listen, and to let others know we want to hear what they have to say.