Monday, July 15, 2024

The shake we can’t shake

Meeting someone always calls for a hello, and how best to do it than to thrust your hand to grasp theirs and follow it up with that all too familiar brief up and down pumping movement!

Over the centuries, people from different walks of life have come to accept the handshake as a way of welcoming the other. It has been established and accepted to have been a symbol of peace to show that the other party is not armed or does not have a weapon.

As if programmed or conditioned, the first thing we do when we greet each other is to stretch forward our hands. Just saying it by mouth is never enough as evidenced by countless handshakes witnessed on the streets when old friends meet, or in homes when old relatives visit. Even different state presidents “shake” on meeting.

I used to loathe the ending to church meeting a lot. The one thing I did not particularly like was the queuing of church members and greeting each of them by hand, each one of them to the last. And, with church congregations you can guess easily how many hands I shook on a Sunday afternoon. I honestly do not have a problem with greeting by hand.

I grew up doing it and can still not resist it if I meet new people or see an old colleague, classmate or friend. I, like many, was programmed to believe it is the polite way.

The problem I had with Sunday afternoons was that somehow I (rightfully) would start thinking about what the hand I was touching had touched before me. And touching so many made me think even more.

More today, I loathe meeting people because everywhere you go people just want to shake hands. And knowing us as human beings, refusing a handshake is seen as being rude. And not many want to be seen as rude.

Only two months ago, the H1N1 was officially declared a pandemic, and health officials have repeatedly warned the public to rid of the handshake.

Other than using prime mediums such as radio, TV and newspaper reports, posters, and pamphlets have been distributed by the health stream stating that avoiding handshakes could actually stop the spread of this flu virus.

It comes not as a surprise that other than the swine flu, we have known the hands to be the worst carrier of germs and bacteria but we still somehow insist on touching each other.

We all should know that the reason we wash our hands is not because we have to eat. Even though many a folk only wash hands at meal times, it still should be known to all that whatever you touch might have some sort of bacteria.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has directed such information to the public. And it is believed that minimizing social interaction and avoiding shaking hands also played a major role in bringing down the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. The influenza, which was also a strain of H1N1, killed close to 50 million people in only a year.

After swine flu was declared a pandemic in June this year, a college in America, the Northeastern University, apparently heeded the advice of not shaking hands by discouraging graduants from shaking hands during a commencement ceremony. Good one, wouldn’t you agree?

I still wonder how many actually were caught with hands stretched out for a good handshake. Some probably also had to remind themselves continuously that “no handshaking”!

The funny thing is that this old practice can’t only be forgotten or avoided. It has also to be done right.
Different cultures insist on different ways to shake hands. In some, you have to bow one knee while at it, in some you use both hands while in others your grip really matters. Most people use the right hand.

And no matter the circumstances, you can never be caught shaking some one’s hand with a glove on. This is synonymous to refusing a handshake. It is considered outright insulting and inappropriate!

Research has so far dated the handshake to the 2nd century BC. Evidently and obviously it has survived long. From century to century, people have upheld the “order of things” for the sake of respect and appropriateness and in many ways forfeiting good health and, to some extent, good life.

When the AH1N1 influenza was first confirmed in Botswana, the public health sector like the WHO recommended also advised against shaking hands. The numbers of infected people continue to rise and still people are advised to minimize the risk of catching the virus by not shaking hands.

But the handshake lives on, of course in favour of our own health, we prefer to be nice to the next person or to follow the tradition as all has been conditioned before us. Isn’t it time enough to let go of the archaic practice and just give in to saying it is enough through word?
That enough is enough.


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