June 9, 2023

How a simple Handshake can influence Perspective for a Lifetime

A Handshake can alter Perspective for a Lifetime

No doubt you’re wondering how a simple handshake can influence perspective for a lifetime, so I’ll share a simple story from another era that illustrates it for you as it happened in the life of a young boy.

I was raised from a young age in the 1940’s and 50’s to believe that a man’s handshake was a measure of the man himself, and as such taught to both give and expect to receive a firm handshake at all times just like the one you see in the picture. It was a definitive benchmark of the era that spoke to the issues of both respect and the innate character of men and boys.

When I was still a youngster in Grade 7 an announcement was made one day that classes were to be canceled in the afternoon. All the kids were to be taken downtown to the main thoroughfare where we would be lined up behind a rope barricade, there to be a public show of support for and await the arrival of a national dignitary. The dignitary in question was the Canadian Prime Minister of the day who would be doing a ‘meet-and-greet’ walking  tour down that main street.

As it happened I was right out front up against that rope barricade and got to shake the hand of the mighty man himself, a handshake which under normal circumstances would have been considered a great honor for me to receive given the teachings about them I’d grown up with. I expected it to be filled with an immensely high level of mutual respect which would demonstrate the innate character, power and great authority of the man’s position as the head of our nation.

I was to be bitterly disappointed in that expectation, because in the moments of contact with his hand my young personal world view was violently thrown atilt, seismically shifted to a degree which altered it forever.

I would like to believe that creating this seismic shift was not the Prime Minister’s intent in shaking the hand of a young boy but shift it did, irrespective of intent or any other factors inherent in his life or station.

The damp and utter limpness of this supposedly powerful man’s handshake instantly obliterated all former notions of the values to be signified by such a handshake, and and ripped from me any form of mandatory reverence or respect for those in positions of high authority and power.

I actually felt shocked and repelled by it, ashamed that I had even touched the man’s hand – so deep was the seismic shift on the norms of my worldview regarding the values of a handshake from this era of life.

The experience changed my perspective so completely that I was left with a life long aversion to the concept of automatic genuflection to figures of authority from all walks of life save one, to be referred to later. It caused me to instead question that authority to determine for myself if it was worthy of the respect they automatically assumed I should show them.

It made me aware that even those in positions of high authority and power still had to put their pants on the same way as I did each morning, and although there is an obvious truth in that it somehow reduced them in my eyes. It robbed me of their previously perceived specialness and transformed it into the mundane. I was left with no natural feelings of awe-filled respect just because fame, success or the fortune of winning an election had elevated someone to a higher level of notoriety or authority.

Although I retained and still practice the same beliefs about the value of handshakes that I learned as a youth, this shift in perspective has translated itself over my lifetime into the habit of taking a long and careful look at the character of those deemed to be in authority or prominence, regardless of whether or not I’ve already shaken their hand. The question has always remained within me – are they in fact worthy of the respect normally to be accorded their position or accomplishments?

The only exception to this shift in perception that I’ve ever allowed was during my years of military service, where I felt comfortable in a belief that higher ranks should be responded to with the degree of deference and respect already earned by that rank.

Even though this incident has never resulted in outward displays of disrespect to others in the wake of it through the years, in the mind of a youngster that’s how a simple handshake can influence perspective for a lifetime and alter it completely.

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