Hard to shake

In the midst of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, eliminating the handshake greeting has been a difficult adjustment in American society.

In American society, etiquette has always dictated that a firm handshake is the required form of greeting. And it’s almost always used to finalize a deal.

But under the social distancing protocols brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak, handshaking has been eliminated as one of the measures to prevent the transfer of the virus.

And according to Owensboro therapist Jonathan Carroll, losing that personal connection from a handshake isn’t to be taken lightly.

“The sealing of a bond; the making of a promise; the extension of a greeting; an intimate introduction; it seems to need a ritual assigned to it,” Carroll said. “Some countries kiss each other on the cheek; other countries may grab each others’ arms and in Asia, there is the bowing with one another with hands clasped in front. …All humans, wherever we are, have some ritual to acknowledge the humanity and the holiness of the other.”

For Americans, however, the handshake is part of who they are — politicians, church pastors and business leaders to name a few.

And for them, the adjustment has not come easy.

Judge-Executive Al Mattingly, a politician and a business owner, said refraining from shaking hands has been difficult.

“As a political person, everywhere you want to go, you want to shake hands with people because if you don’t it’s considered rude,” Mattingly said. “It’s been a learning curve but it’s been easier because those mass groups of people are no longer there. It wasn’t unusual for me to go to a chamber (of commerce) meeting and shake hands with a couple hundred people there.”

For nearly a month, many churches have been forced to live-stream their services without their congregations.

Jason Nichols, children and youth pastor at Life Community Church, said not reaching out to shake hands has been one of the hardest adjustments he’s had to make since social distance protocols have gone into place.

“The Sunday before everything shut down we found ourselves walking around the sanctuary with our hands in our pockets,” Nichols said. “It’s a natural habit for a pastor that, when walking by a church member, you want to shake their hand. …To not be able to shake hands has been really strange. Even when somebody stops by the office, I have to catch myself to not get close or reach out my hand.”

In the business world, deals are often made with a handshake.

Tyler Shookman, a real estate agent for Steve Castlen Realtors, said shaking hands has always been an essential part of his job.

“People pull up to a home, and when you’ve never met them before or even people I’ve met before, I greet them with a handshake when they come in and it’s a handshake when they leave,” Shookman said. “So I could do 100 handshakes easily in any given day.”

As the days have turned into weeks with social distancing mandates by the state and federal governments, the question now goes to will handshaking return?

Carroll said the question has crossed his mind.

“I’ve wondered how long it’s going to take us to go back to shaking hands,” Carroll said. “I think we’re going to be quite reluctant for a long time.”

Until the American society returns to normal, Carroll suggested that people should use a bow of a head, a wink, a smile and kind words to remain connected.

“We can connect physically while not touching,” Carroll said. “I think there is some beauty to that. I think we’re learning how to do a new dance with one another that doesn’t involve physical touching, but it’s a dance nonetheless.”

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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