When The Wichita Eagle reported that WSU plans to drop its traditional graduation handshake next week as a nod to concerns about spreading the H1N1 virus, comments poured in. “Hilarious.” “Seriously?” “I’ll be wearing my spacesuit to graduation as a precautionary measure.” “Classic over-reaction…”
But is it?
Is it time that we re-evaluate our traditional handshake for a greeting that communicates caring, warmth, respect or congratulations – but lessens the chance of spreading germs?
I’ve been in several meetings over the years where I didn’t shake hands with people because I thought I might be coming down with something. While rescheduling the meeting would have been the most considerate course of action, that isn’t always possible. In these instances I just had to hope that people didn’t think me rude. I was simply trying to spare them in case I was contagious.
Other countries have traditions that don’t involve touching at all. Japan and China use a courteous bow. India adds “Namaste” (“I bow to you”) and hands in a prayerful, palm-together position.
These humble, ego-checking acknowledgements may never have a chance of acceptance in the States where we’ve grown all-too accustomed to someone thrusting out his hand and promptly crushing our own. And it appears that this swine-human-avian virus won’t produce the global pandemic initially feared. But now that we know more about disease transmission, is it so wrong to consider a tradition not born out of medieval times?
We’re not knights extending open hands to show we hold no weapon and can be trusted. But, as we now know, even if our hands look empty, they can hold a whole world of hurt.