BAKER: The gentleman’s agreement and the pandemic

Published 1:11 pm Monday, June 29, 2020

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By William Baker
Contributing columnist

Recently I was reminded that on the last Thursday in June, people across the nation have been observing National Handshake Day for at least fifteen years.  My first reaction was “But not this year! Not during the pandemic.”

Since 2005, the day has been observed as “…a key to first impressions and relationships” according to Miryam Roddy, the founder.

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Many old-timers would associate the reference to the history of a man’s handshake “being as good as his word.”  Or, “A man’s word is his bond.”

In today’s world, before the coronavirus became a pandemic, we have moved beyond the handshake to having a lawyer draw up a formal contract.  We still applaud the people we know who honor their commitments and who can be relied upon to act on promises made.

With all the admonitions from health authorities, including washing our hands often, maintaining a six-foot distance between us and others, keeping hand-sanitizers handy, wear a mask when going out, but staying home if at all possible, we know that even the friendly hand-shake is in danger.

Some of us are hearing the experts’ predictions of how the pandemic will change our lives.  Most of us are probably asking “What comes after COVID-19?”

There are those who say the kind of change that’s occurred over a few months will change how we do things for years. How we greet each other ranks near the top of the list.

Here’s what Eric Toner, M.D. said recently “Especially for older people, hand scrubbing, mask wearing and hyper attention to surface disinfection will be the norm at every turn.”  Dr. Toner is a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

In the world of sports, the National Basketball Association issued more than a hundred pages of health and safety protocol ahead of restarting play in July.

In my neighborhood, meeting a new neighbor for the first time was a bit awkward. We spoke and then both hesitated.  We said something to the effect that times are changing and there will be no handshake today.  He replied, “Yes. The words today are “Keep your distance.”

So much for the immediate impact on the gentleman’s agreement and one of the first more noticeable effects of the pandemic on daily life.  There will be many more to be sure. But, finally, the words “Be Safe” are the most important.

Dr. William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email: