Handshake Becoming Endangered Species? 

Strolling down a quiet street in eastern Texas, a small white window sign catches my eye.

“Where a handshake still means something,” read the black letters.

Pausing, I couldn’t help to find myself transported back to learning the ropes of life as a young adult and how one conducts themselves as a person of character. A world where your word is stronger than any signature on a piece of paper, a handshake universally binds you to another, and your name is the most valuable possession you’ll ever own.

The black and white letters hung with me as a full moon looked over my shoulder, casting my shadow towards the building.

Life really is that simple, I thought. And are we making sure to pass these timeless concepts to future generations? And if not, what will this mean?

I’ve bought cars, houses, and deeply apologized over a handshake. And never was there a question by either end of the grasp what being communicated or committed. A deal was done or apology accepted.

Today I pay for items with the swipe of my phone or by inserting a small plastic card into a reader. I can also spend thousands of dollars by clicking a mouse over a small image on a computer screen. Nothing is real, nothing is said – only ones and zeros racing around the globe in small packets of data.

I increasingly miss the currency of the handshake. Binding, personal, and universally accepted as more valuable than gold. As much as the world of technology continues to tractor us into a world absent of looking one another in the eyes, I take great comfort in knowing people of true character never walk away from a handshake.

A friend once casually tossed out a phrase after explaining why he’d done something to help another in need.

“Heck, that is just the Cowboy Way,” he said. He was tall, his words slow, and his word gold.

I thought about his words and the emotional gravity they projected. Your word is good, your handshake binding, and doing the right thing is non-negotiable. And at every opportunity, he did.

The sign kept looking at me. I thought about the tradition of teaching young people to look another directly in the eyes when speaking, being sincere in your commitments, and only offering a handshake when you are ready to conclude an agreement or reach a mutual understanding. Are we making sure to instill these values in current and future generations? I hope so. These values and traditions are critical predictors of a person as they go through life.

I wonder where this is all leading, that is are these basic tenants of maturity going to end up in the scrap heap of society? The outcome is nothing short of unnerving. To have our most valuable currency evaporate, replaced by digital signatures or passwords, is to potentially undermine our trust in each other.

My friend clearly knows what his word and handshake mean. Let’s hope technology doesn’t delete this valuable tradition.


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