“Put ‘er there!”


Like the origins of many social practices, that of the handshake is rather murky.

Sculptures and funerary stelai (stone or wooden slabs, generally taller than they are wide, erected in ancient societies as monuments) dating from as far back as Fifth Century B.C.E. Greece portray people clasping hands. However, we do not quite know the meaning of the gesture back then.

It is also posited that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the Western world to the handshake in the late Sixteenth Century C.E.

Like many people, I was taught that shaking hands came about in Medieval Europe, when knights extended their empty right hands to show that they were not armed, and therefore coming close did not pose a risk. (I guess left-handed people – like me – got stabbed a lot with swords and daggers.)

Regardless which theory appeals to you, I think shaking hands has generally become as empty a gesture as parroting, “Have a nice day,” or, “Have a good one.”

A while back I decided to do my bit to resurrect the meaningful handshake. I began shaking hands with, and saying, “Thank you,” to all manner of folks, particularly those whose vocations provide the services on which I depend. Among these are auto mechanics, delivery people, grocery store clerks and driveway raising estimators, to name but a few. In cold weather I make it a point to remove my glove before offering someone my hand. I also try not to rattle off “thank you,” but say it with honest sincerity.

How to people react to this? In my experience the overwhelming majority of them are pleasantly surprised, particularly when I take off my glove as a prelude to shaking their hands. The gesture often elicits a smile and the reply, “You’re welcome!”

Full disclosure: being human, now and then I fail to shake hands when busyness, grumpiness or absentmindedness are at the forefront of my mind. However, the more I make the practice a part of everyday life, the more inclined I am to remember to do it.

I hope you will consider shaking hands and saying thank you more often!




Follow-up to “Mr. Stone Goes to Washington”


I’ve recounted my experience of traveling to Washington DC in late March for a gathering of 21 people from around the country. Our goal was that of having frank but tactful and respectful discussions of a Hot Button of contemporary American society: guns. We comprised a wide social spectrum and variety of attitudes toward, and experiences with, firearms.

The mentoring team did a superb job of preparing us to address the issue, and I believe everyone came away from the event having learned new things about themselves, with an appreciation for people with whom we would strongly disagree.

Following the meeting a closed Facebook group was established to enable its participants to stay in touch and delve deeper into the topics we had explored. Some time later 130 more people that had taken the initial survey were added to the FB group. Like all of us, these participants agreed to have their comments reviewed by representatives of the whose newspapers that organized the project.

What happened next?

“The 21” soon became painfully aware of the limitations of social media, when it came to maintaining or deepening our connection. The discipline inculcated by the moderators worked well when we were face-to-face but the free-wheeling nature of Facebook made it easy to get off-topic. Sports, politics (that Pandora’s Box!) and matters of a personal nature diluted the force of our interactions.

The addition of “The 130” muddied the waters further. None of them had the training that reminded the initial group to take a deep breath before posting something incendiary. There were instances when members of the enlarged group were banned, on account of their inability to “play nice.”

Outside monitoring the of “Guns: An American Conversation” FB group ended sometime in May-June. While several of The 21 kept in touch most of us (myself included) decided the group’s utility had ended, and it faded into history.

To some, the manner in which this endeavor ended makes it a waste of time and money. A mere 21 souls weren’t capable of solving the gun problem that grips the nation, were they? Still, I believe that I and the people with whom I spent an intense and exhilarating day and a half can be part of the solution, rather than agents that perpetuate the problem.

We damn well better start somewhere.