Yesterday a man came to my house to check our septic tank. My husband and I live out in the country where there’s no city sewage system, so that means you need a septic tank. Having previously only lived in cities, I know absolutely nothing about septic tanks, but mine needed inspected. So a man showed up at our door with a big bushy beard and a smile, ready to get to work.
When I opened the door to greet him we both nodded and said hello, and then there was this strange moment of awkwardness where we didn’t know what to do next. That awkward moment was where the handshake normally would have gone. But instead of the handshake we just had, well, nothing.
Handshakes have been used as a greeting for hundreds of years. They started out as a way for people to show they didn’t have any weapons and eventually became a way of letting the person across from you know that you have good feelings towards them.
Handshakes are now gone, probably forever. Fears over the Coronavirus means it’s no longer socially acceptable to shake someone’s hand. So how do you let people know your intentions towards them?
The Perfect Handshake Replacement
Sure you could replace handshakes with words, but words can be lies. It’s harder to lie with your movements, we need some sort of physical cue to match up to the words and let us know everything is alright. Until we have some sort of substitute for the handshake, there will always be this sort of awkward pause in the middle of an initial meeting.
Luckily, there’s a solution: The Vulcan Salute.
The Vulcan Salute is that thing you’ve seen Spock do on Star Trek. It looks like this…
Origins Of The Vulcan Salute
The Vulcan Salute is actually something that actor Leonard Nimoy came up with himself. He first used it in the 1967 Star Trek episode “Amok Time” and it has since become a symbol of the fictional Vulcan race, as their traditional greeting.
In his autobiography “I Am Spock” Leonard Nimoy revealed that he based the hand gesture on a priestly blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim. That blessing isn’t quite the same, it has some differences, but it gave him the idea for the Vulcan Salute hand-movement.
So how does it work? Simple. In that space where you’d normally offer a hand for a handshake, instead you hold up your hand in the configuration demonstrated by Spock and you say “Live long and prosper”. The other person, if they would normally return your handshake, instead of handshaking holds up their hand in the same configuration and responds with “Peace and long life”.
Everyone feels good and you can go on with your social activity.
Government Backing For The Vulcan Salute
How realistic is this as a real replacement for the handshake? Well, it already has the backing of several governments.
Members of United States Congress have already been advised to start replacing handshakes with the Vulcan salute.
CNN reports that during a closed door meeting of the House Democratic caucus on March 10, 2020 lawmakers were given instruction on how to do the Vulcan Salute. Or if you’re Dr. McCoy, that hand-thingy that Spock always does.
The instructions came from an attending physician who was speaking to Congress members about the best precautions to take to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. The doctor advised them to avoid shaking hands, as a preventative measure. He then suggested they start using “live long and prosper sign” instead.
In Great Britain, Professor Robert West is one of the UK Government’s top science advisors. And he’s recommending the government there endorse the Vulcan Salute as their replacement for handshakes. He tells The Sun, “It means live long and prosper — so in the current situation it is particularly apt.”
Watch the news and don’t be surprised if you see your elected official spreading his fingers and raising his hand in greeting, the next time he or she wants to say hello.
The Big Obstacle To Replacing Handshakes
Of course the big obstacle to actually getting people to do this is that the Vulcan Salute isn’t totally easy. It takes practice to get your fingers to do that. On Star Trek Dr. McCoy famously never could figure out how to do it…
But if you think about it, that’s actually why this is such a great idea.
Handshakes took a certain amount of effort and so does this. Having to practice the Vulcan Salute to get it right, makes it more meaningful when you do it. And to replace the handshake, you’re going to need something with a lot of clear intention behind it. I can’t imagine any better replacement for the handshake than the Vulcan Salute.
Live long and prosper.