Hands across the water.

With the Popes funeral a few days back, I was appalled at the manner of the close press coverage of the attendees. The issue of concern was the obsessiveness of who hugged whom, kissed whose hands and who shook whose hands?

Some say that the origin of the handshake or greeting is believed to be from Egyptian origins, having been delivered as a gift from God. Others suggest that during medieval times, strangers shook hands to assure each other that no weapons would be drawn. Regardless of its origins, there is little doubt about its significance as a greeting and an indicator of just whom you are dealing with.

On another level, do we expect other cultures to adopt our customs or are we willing to adopt theirs? This might translate to how business or even foreign relations are to be conducted. Do we compromise or force others peoples to deal only on our terms? We may not have time to hear a language, but taking time to learn the “signals” is a powerful communicator. Gestures and body language communicate as effectively as words – maybe even more effectively. We use gestures daily, almost instinctively, from beckoning to a waiter, or punctuating a business presentation, visual signals to airport ground attendants guiding an airline pilot into the jet way or a parent using a whole dictionary of gestures to teach a child. However, a personal greeting with an aim to share in grief or portray empathy may have been all that was meant. Sometimes years of hate between countries or cultures can lead to paranoia rather than considering any avenue for light and resolution.

The Ultimate Gesture
According to Roger G. Axtell, the ‘ultimate gesture’ carries certain welcome characteristic unlike any other single gestures.
* Firstly, this ‘ultimate gestures’ is known everywhere – and is absolutely universal.
* Secondly, it is rarely, if ever, misunderstood. Primitive tribes and world leaders alike know and use these gestures.
* Thirdly, scientists believe this particular gesture actually releases chemicals called endorphins in to the body system that create a feeling of mild euphoria.

What is this singular signal and giant of all gestures? It is quite simply, the smile.
Use it freely, use it often. ( Source: Axtell, Roger E. Gestures: The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. John Wiley & Sons, 1991.)

What would others say about you on your day of departure?
Regardless of the current politics in the world, the Popes’ funeral brought many leaders together. Those at conflict with each other should use this time to contemplate the reaction of their actions against each other. They needed to see that ultimately, we do not take anything with us when we leave this world. Interestingly, in Steven R Covey’s best selling management book entitled, Seven Habits for highly Effective people, he asks the reader to consider what people may say about them at their funeral, if they were looking in – suggesting that we need to consider our own contribution or reflect on our current behaviour to ourselves (self-discipline) or to others around us.

Let us not read too much into the public gestures but instead hope that there are private thoughts that could materialise into ideas and practical dialogues for peace.

Categories: 2005

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