I remember one of the first warnings to come from above when it was clear coronavirus was coming to the U.S. was NO SHAKING HANDS. I recall Gov. Pete Ricketts demonstrating the elbow bump technique as a new way to say, “Hello, nice to meet you” at one of his early press conferences. Since that time, the hand shaking tradition has basically disappeared. It appears the elbow bump never really caught on, and now when we meet someone for the first time, it’s more a nod of the head, or just a blank stare.
Like so many simple things we’ve had to give up during this pandemic, it’s one that you don’t really notice it until it’s gone. I’ve often found myself reaching out to do a shake, only to avoid disaster and pull my hand back at the last second saying, “Sorry, I guess we can’t do that anymore.”
I can think of only two times in the last two months that I actually shook the hand of someone else. Once was when I met someone for the first time, and we both instinctively reached out for a grip. We were both horrified when we realized that we had violated the first rule of social distancing. No shaking of hands! We both kind of wiped our hands on our pants, and went about our business. I did make a mental note to not touch my face, nose, or anyone else until I was able to wash my hands.
My second handshaking experience was recently when a longtime employee was leaving on their last day. That time I apologized in advance, and said “I’m sorry, but after all these years, I just have to shake your hand to wish you well.” The staff person just smiled, and happily gave me a farewell grip. I have to admit, I immediately made a bee line to my bottle of Purell and gave my hand a good slathering.
Some are saying that we may never see the return of the handshake. I, personally, think that would be a terrible shame.
The history of the handshake dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece. It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. In the pre-virus world, a strong handshake while looking someone in the eye would set the tone and give a perception of your abilities. It can give a strong first impression to customers, business prospects, employers and employees. While a weak, clammy handshake does just the opposite. A handshake is also a symbol of good faith when finalizing a deal or making a promise. It’s a way for people to show that their word is a sacred bond.
There’s no way the elbow bump can replace all of that. People need to stand strong and and don’t give up on the handshake, in spite of what Dr Anthony Fauci, President Trump’s infectious disease expert, said in an interview earlier this month.
“We should never shake hands again,” he said. “As a society, just forget about shaking hands, we don’t need to shake hands. We’ve gotta break that custom.”
Obviously, he’s way smarter than me, but I for one, just can’t accept that.
There are lots of things that can kill us in this world. Someone dies from heart disease about every 30 seconds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Yet, we still let people eat things that are bad for them and cigarettes are still legal. Is a handshake really that deadly?
For now, I will be a good soldier and follow CDC guidelines and avoid the old grip and grin. But beware. One of these days, I may meet you somewhere and reach out for a handshake with a smile. Don’t worry though, I’ll have my bottle of hand sanitizer in a holster on my belt and will be happy to let you use as much as you need.
Mark Rhoades is publisher of Enterprise Media Group.