Dexiosis: A meaningful gesture of classic antiquity

When I taught communication skills a few years back, one of the exercises that would get a new group of students interacting with each other was by choosing a very large building, and sending the students, half in each direction, at intervals, on a walk around the outside of the building, eventually all returning to the point of origin. Their brief was simple: Greet everyone you meet coming the other way, in a different way using different words, gestures and actions.
It was always fun to watch from a distance, as every possible scenario is played out over a very brief period, and it’s amazing how it proved a very effective ‘icebreaker.’
Of course, the act of greeting another, is as old as the hills, and takes so many forms, but first and foremost they first rely on eye contact, an acknowledgement of the presence of the other person. One of the difficulties in maintaining eye contact however is how long it should last, and what message are you sending?
It’s actually quite intriguing if you think about it. We don’t really like having our personal space invaded do we? Similarly, returning eye contact is probably well-mannered, yet if we glance in the same direction and find the same person still looking at us, it feels like an invasion of privacy doesn’t it? Yet, it may all be completely innocent!
On the other side of the coin, I like small town New Zealand style greetings, where nearly everybody knows everybody. Yet, delightfully, strangers are greeted with very open eye contact, there is something in the look that says, “Oh, you’re new, I must say hello.” And…. Sure enough it happens, a genuine smile upon getting closer, and a, “Hello, it’s a lovely day isn’t it?” A sure conversation starter, I just love it, and visiting each year the town where my family lived in a town of just 2700 people, was something Lena and I have both found an absolute joy.
Just think of how you greet people you pass going in the other direction. Is there a glance, a nod, a greeting? Do you say hi, hello, good-day, good morning, Salaam Allaykum, or do you simply smile? Do you not smile? Are you one of those Grinch-like characters who couldn’t smile if you were paid to? Urgh!
If you know someone, or are introduced to them, do you shake hands? Did you know the handshake was believed to have originated over 4,000 years ago, as the means of transferring power from ancient deities to earthly rulers? Well that’s one story. Another is that trusting strangers would show that they had no intention of using their swords or daggers by proffering their right hand in greeting as a sign of goodwill. There is no mention of how left-handed warriors greeted others in the history books!
History also records that in ancient Assyria greetings, respect and peaceable intentions were demonstrated by removing the clothing from one’s upper body. Gosh, it would take a while to walk down the street wouldn’t it? During the Middle Ages, and later in Europe though, it became the fashion to bow instead of taking your clothes off! Tipping your hat, touching the forelock, and a nod came later as expediency took over.
But even a handshake can take so many different forms can’t it? In the West, a strong handshake is an absolute necessity, as it demonstrates your strength and supremacy over another (well, that’s the historic version), and most of us have had our hands crushed at some time. Meanwhile, here in this culture, a handshake is a very gentle act of no more than a touch. Then through the 70’s till recently a ‘high five’ was a common greeting. It’s all quite fun!
Hi, hello, and the like will never be the same again will they? Oh, and did you know that “Goodbye” is a shortened version of “God be with you?” Till next week, bye.