Could the Fist Bump Replace the Handshake?

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Read an article in the New York Times recently by Dr. Richard Kearney, a philosophy professor in Boston, about the concept of losing human touch in our society. It was scary to imagine we are living in a world where the human, physical touch is diminishing.

And then it happened, I was introducing myself to an individual in a business and reached out to shake their hand. The immediate response was a withholding with the associated comment of I don’t like to shake hands, what about a fist bump? A bit stunned I acquiesced, made a fist and touched hers. Is this the downfall of human physical interaction and relationships? Are we destined to be connected using a fist bump? Of course not, but it does make one pause.

According to Wikipedia, the fist bump originated in the 1940’s when biker gangs became popular. Motorcyclists would use it to connect with each other. More recently doctors have shared that using a fist bump, as opposed to a handshake, will decrease the amount of germs being spread. And of course there was the time when President Obama and his wife Michelle fist bumped during a televised Presidential campaign speech and it was dubbed “the fist bump heard ‘round the world.”

Call it a fad or a cool move – I am not trashing the fist bump. I am questioning that which constitutes human contact and raises our ability to interconnect with others. Does a closed fist accomplish that?

Years ago I use to volunteer for the American Red Cross. I was on-call one night a week to provide coffee and sustenance to families who had experienced the horror of a fire in their home or housing unit. Once safe to do so, I also enter the burned building to take a preliminary inventory of damage and potential supplies needed when the family showed up at Red Cross headquarters the next day. I remember one especially harrowing event when multiple families were displaced. There were so many people that had been displaced. I just kept reaching out and shaking hands, handing out hot cups of coffee, touching people’s shoulders, or hugging them when invited to do so.

A week or so later I was stopped in the Red Cross office and asked if I was the one who had physically touched some of the clients. I responded yes, and then asked, “Did I do something wrong?” The immediate response, “Absolutely not!” Rather, I was asked to co-lead a session with another volunteer on how to interface with clients. I later learned that all those people who showed up at the Red Cross office shared how deeply they were touched by the woman who compassionately reached out and touched them during their time of distress.

Do I believe the fist bump will replace the human connection of a handshake and reaching out to connect with others? Absolutely not! Is it cool, perhaps. The real question – how are you reaching out across the human divide to compassionately interact with those around you?

Link to Dr. Kearney’s article “Losing Our Touch

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