Someday in the not-too-distant future, many of us will startle our grandchildren by telling them that once upon a time, friends would meet for lunch, shake hands, and then eat without washing those hands after the shake. They’ll be amazed that in the past, some people were insulted if someone didn’t want to shake hands with them. We’ll shock those grandkids by telling them that there was a time when folks would go to cocktail parties, meet new people and shake their hands without secretly thinking, “How am I going to sneak off to the bathroom to wash my hands before they serve the finger food?”
There’s no doubt about it. Very soon, the handshake will be a thing of the past. It will go the way of the dinosaur, the lamplighter, and customer service. I will miss it. I already do.
The Center for Disease Control says that good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent colds from spreading. I place the beginning of major handshaking avoidance with the Swine Flu Panic of 2009. That’s when hands officially went from mere appendages to virulent petri dishes. That’s when we were encouraged to keep our hand hygiene up to par. That’s also when the handshake started to disappear.
There’s some faulty logic there. Just because the best way to stop germs from spreading is by having clean hands doesn’t mean that the best way to avoid germs is to avoid handshakes. No, the best way is for everybody to have clean hands. Your reluctance to shake your friends’ hands before eating lunch presumes they don’t wash their hands when they should. What kind of friends are you hanging out with anyway?
I came rather late to germaphobia. I had thought my neuroses plate was full, but I guess there’s always room for one more. Now I’m thinking I made a mistake when I started worrying so much about the shake. I’m still not against using common sense. I don’t advocate shaking hands with someone who has been sick or has been around sick people or who is bleeding profusely from the palm. However, don’t you think we’ve taken this whole thing a little too far?
A handshake is more than a social nicety. It is actual human contact, something we experience less and less of in these digital days. It’s believed that the handshake began as a way to show that a person was not carrying a weapon and wanted peace. Deals are sealed with a handshake. Someone with a good, firm handshake is thought to be a person of good character. So two questions arise. Does all of this handshake avoidance really work? Even if it does, is it worth it?
Do you know anyone who is vigilant about avoiding handshakes who gets fewer colds or flus than anyone else? I don’t. Even if they get fewer colds now than before they became shakeless, it’s not like they used to get 50 colds a year and now they get only five. The average adult gets between two and four colds a year. If avoiding handshaking really does reduce colds, maybe that vigilant non-shaker can eliminate one of the colds per year. Is it worth missing out on all that human contact for an entire year to maybe avoid one cold?
I’m not saying a cold is anything to sneeze at. When I get one, I go crazy. I don’t understand how others can go on with their lives knowing how much I’m suffering, and I spend most of my time in bed wondering what it will be like having a cold for the rest of my days.
However, I think we’re getting mixed messages from health experts. In recent years, we’ve been told that physical touching is important to our health, especially our mental and emotional health. Just being touched by another person can help reduce stress and depression. So do you want to be sniffle-free but depressed?
You know it’s going to be a slippery slope. Today, handshakes are out, next it’s hugs and kisses. After that, some medical journal will recommend that we just not touch anyone else anymore. As much as I hate colds, I have decided to try to worry less and shake more. I’m a friendly guy. Physical contact is just too important to me. It’s important to everybody. I don’t think there has ever been a prisoner in solitary confinement who has shouted joyfully, “I love it here! There’s no chance of catching a cold from shaking hands with anybody. Please let me stay here alone forever.”
This isn’t going to be easy for me, either. But can’t we at least try to be less hysterical when it comes to worrying about catching germs from other people? In fact, let’s shake on it.