Can we still shake on that?

Can we still shake on that?

One More Thing

People have been shaking hands for a long time; perhaps all the way back to the days of cave painting.

Imagine this: “That’s a great piece of mural-making, Groog. Put down your swab, and let me shake your hand.” Well, maybe not exactly, but you get the idea. Handshaking is an old, old ritual. Archeologists who study it in ancient art call it dexiosis.

Today in the 21st century, however, it’s probably appropriate to ask whether the time has come for the custom to be considered passé or obsolete. Some pundits and wags on the internet and elsewhere seem to think so. As reasons, they cite everything from exposure to vicious germs to a serious lack of cool.

Old habits are hard to break, though. Scholars and people who often think about such things conclude that the handshake originated as a way to demonstrate good intentions. It shows that you aren’t hiding a weapon in your hand. Hence it has come down to the present in various circumstances and settings as a way to signify friendliness and good will. Perhaps, that’s why politicians do it almost reflexively.

According to Wikipedia, Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, shook hands with 8,150 people in one day on January 1, 1907.

Attorney Stephen R. Archambault, the Rhode Island State Senator for district 22, hasn’t counted his handshakes, but he estimates he has knocked on 25,000 doors since he entered politics and has shaken hands at almost every stop as well as in countless other situations.

“The handshake is what breaks the gap,” he says. “I shake everyone’s hand everywhere I go. I do it in the office, in court, on the street. I’ve done it since I was a little guy. It’s how I was raised. If they give me a different kind of greeting, I adapt.”

Perhaps in tacit acknowledgment of the germ issue, he confides, “I wash my hands all the time.” He also confesses to carrying hand sanitizer, and using it regularly.

“In the winter you should see how dry and raw my hands get,” he notes. “I still put my hand out, though.”

Dr. Jeremy Spector, an eminent gastroenterologist who practices in Rhode Island, has a similar take on the age-old tradition.

“I shake hands a lot” he says. “Maybe I’m old school. I think it establishes human contact,” he adds, commenting that it is a way of showing empathy and compassion.

As for the passing of germs, he declares, “I don’t worry about germs. I wash my hands 40 times a day. Doctors do that.”

One of the other main reasons that is offered for hitting the delete button on the convention of clasping hands in social and business situations is that it represents the past. According to the website Ranker, the poor beleaguered underemployed and student loan burdened millennials have been blamed for killing many things. To wit: breakfast cereal (too much work), pants (they wear workout clothes and leggings instead), hotels (too posh and too costly), canned tuna (they don’t own can openers), fabric softener (they don’t buy clothes that wrinkle) and, yes, shaking hands because, after all, it’s a baby boomer thing. Millennials, it is generally agreed, belong to the generation born between 1981 and 1996.

Katie Law falls into that generation, but she quickly vows that she doesn’t subscribe to many of the traits attributed to it. Chair of the Smithfield Historic Preservation Commission and President of the Smithfield Preservation Society, she also manages her family’s industrial/commercial electrical contracting business.

“Things are very different today,” she observes, alluding to the societal tendency to disrupt inherited norms. “Handshaking is a piece of human behavior that’s thought about a lot.” She makes it clear, however, that she doesn’t want to be included in any movement to de-emphasize or de-value the institution.

“A handshake communicates a person’s intent to be friendly, to be receptive, to be willing to interact,” she reflects, adding, “It can overcome an awkward moment.”
Putting it in a historical context, she mentions “It’s not as grandiose as tipping your hat.”

However, she states that gender can be a factor. “It’s so different for women.”

Often in a business setting or in her work with historical matters, she finds that handshakes are not always offered. “A lot of times I get passed over. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman, but I do know I want to shake people’s hands. I want to have my intent known. I want to physically manifest my intent.” In Russia women don’t usually get the chance. They rarely shake hands.

So, what about substitute rituals like the fist bump sometimes favored by former President Barack Obama? Some sources say that it had its origins with athletes, one suggesting that boxers invented it in the 19th century to demonstrate sportsmanship before a fight. Others credit the late great Saint Louis Cardinal outfielder and Hall of Famer, Stan Musial who in the 1950s began doing it because, in addition to fly balls, he was catching too many colds. There’s that infernal germ business again.
Jim Connell Sr., assistant baseball coach at Smithfield High School isn’t having any of it, though. After games the team shakes hands with their opponents. No fist bumps or daps (elaborate choreographed ritualistic hand routines).

“Yes, we shake hands,” Connell asserts firmly. “We still shake hands. It’s the thing to do.”

(Contact me at smithpublarry@gmail.com)

Bottom Lines

What do you think? In a few words what’s your view of shaking hands? Please keep it very short, and next time we will publish as many as will fit here.

Recently spotted: In the backyard – a turkey, several squirrels, some rabbits, two deer, a fox, lots of birds, but not the Greenville bear.