What’s the Value of a Handshake?

The habits of social connection are disappearing and the cost could be severe
August 20, 2020 Updated: August 20, 2020

What’s the value of a handshake? That question has been on my mind for several days.

A couple of weeks after this pandemic kicked off, I started talking to leaders about my concerns around social distancing. I felt like we should have named it “physical distancing” because humans seek meaning. We are emotional and social—wired to connect.

We thrive in times of chaos by our ability to form groups to overcome whatever is thrown at us.

Our ability to connect (thanks to the social capital that we build in our communities and works places) often determines how we will navigate the world when things fall apart. I’ve been thinking about the impact of social distancing on that human reality. I am concerned about how it will affect the world that we hand our kids. I saw it on full display at my son’s recent baseball tournament.

In any sport, for as long as I can remember when the game is over, the two teams line up and shake hands. All the players and coaches shake hands, and it’s one of the greatest and most natural displays of sportsmanship and human connection in the world.

As refreshing as it is to see that, because of COVID-19, we can’t have kids touching each other or shaking hands. So, what they did was stand at the dugout, take off their hats, and tip their hats to the other team. There was no contact—it was just a gesture, almost like a salute. It struck me that this is the world we live in now.

In this last tournament, I started to notice that the other teams weren’t reciprocating this gesture. The game would end, they would go to the dugout, and quickly forget about the team they just played.

There was no closing connection between these two groups that had just met on the field and earned each other’s respect. There was no passing of social currency. They just got their gear and walked out.

In the last game my son played, they got beat by one run. It was hard to watch. To my genuine satisfaction, my son’s team walked out of the dugout and they tipped their hats. And it was obviously hard for them to do.

The other team didn’t even see it because they were already putting their gear up. This disconnect hurt. We’re better than this. We’re better together. I’m not saying that we need to run out and shake each other’s hands or violate distance protocols. But there is a cost to social distancing.

There is a cost to the separation that we’re creating. If we’re not mindful of it and how this impacts us at a community level, then we risk generating distrust, disengagement, and conflict. We have to decide how we’re going to lead.

This is not some grandiose strategic gesture, this is me talking to you about how are we going to lead our children, our baseball teams, our kids, our communities, and how we interact with each other.

Will we shake hands again one day? Will we insist that we come back together and close these gaps? Because if we don’t, we just assume that somebody else is going to ride down the hill on a horse and make that happen.

It’s not going to happen.

It really hit me this weekend as I watched the centuries-old tradition of a handshake just evaporate. I realized that we’re going to need to consciously create connection. We will need to put in effort to come back together and overcome the separation and disconnection now spreading like a virus.

If we don’t, we’ll have lost an essential wealth of social currency that we will need desperately when the next crisis comes screaming across the fruited plains.

And if next one is bigger and badder than the last, which is very possible, we will need each other to get through it.

Human connection. I guess that’s the “rooftop I’m going to die on”: finding a way from my lessons as a Green Beret to bring our communities back together on the other side of this thing.

If we’re not thinking about that now, if we’re not looking for ways to adjust our mindset toward connection, even with something as simple as a tip of the hat, then we’ve already lost.

But I think that we can do it—if we wake up to it. We have to stop waiting on someone else to give us permission to lead the way.

Don’t let the handshake be something that goes extinct. Don’t let connection wither. Don’t let social distancing and fear warp your mindset. There will be a time and place when we can have that kind of contact again, but in the meantime, let’s find other ways to stay connected and model that for our kids. If we don’t fight for it, conflict will grow and isolation will dominate. 

This is what a connection mindset is all about, and this is where we have to go. That’s the rooftop I’m going to. I’ll see you on the rooftop.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He’s the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit RooftopLeadership.com