Merits of Winking in January

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Essay on the merits of winking in January

It has been suggested by some clergy that, for the sake of public health during the winter bug season, people might wish to refrain from shaking hands. Whilst consensual handshaking takes place in a variety of settings the only venue where it is close to mandatory is in Church. Should handshaking during Mass be given the thumbs-down, the simplest option would be to replace it with nothing. But that would be a shame since there are few enough times in the week when folk get to unleash their inner John Lennon.

One option would be to engage in a verbal exchange of goodwill only. Rules from 1969 apply. No congratulations should be offered. No condolences. No best wishes for the match. But would the absence of the handshake diminish the gravity of the moment to the point where the likes of ‘how’s she cuttin’ and ‘what is a Grecian bend?’ become common parlance?

Another option would be to just leave it up to the individual to proceed with caution, avoiding anybody who looks like they may be incubating a lurgy. This may, however, produce tension between devil-may-care shakers and non-shakers. We might also end up with a bemused clutch of the unshaken, wondering if they look as though they are sickening for something. And risk having a disappointed shaker who offers the hand, only to see the intended ‘shakee’ avoid eye contact. In order to avoid uncertainty, which could turn a reverent silence into an uncomfortable one, it might make more sense to grasp the nettle and introduce a substitute.

But what could act as a substitute for a handshake? After little reflection, some might contend that a strong prima facie case exists for winking.

Winking has several advantages. Not only is physical contact not required, but there is no need for physical proximity either. Anybody who looks a bit ‘dodgy’ can be given a wide berth yet still be in receipt of a salutation from afar. Those who look as though they are about to succumb wouldn’t be made to feel even worse than they are going to, having been damaged psychologically by all the shunning.

Winking to some might seem like a frivolous alternative but, so long as the winker manages to avoid a simultaneous nod of the head and a grin, it need not be salacious. Nevertheless, winking is not without risks. What if outsiders were to visit the Parish and not be privy to the local initiative? A solo visitor may see the salutation, be flattered and respond in kind. But, misinterpreting the wink, they may also add two additional head gestures to invite further interaction outside. Even less predictable outcomes could ensue were a tourist couple to be winked at. A range of possible scenarios might play out depending on how solid the relationship is, the attractiveness of the winker, and which one, if not both, thought they were being winked at. Safeguards need to be put in place to avoid such scenarios. Leaflets at the door, perhaps.

At the inception of handshaking in the 1960s, it was deemed appropriate that it should only be offered to nearby brethren. Possibly because unregulated wandering would have meant the length of a service would be at the mercy of the most gregarious member of the congregation. Winking cuts down on interaction time still further. It also gives a nod towards demographic trends by eliminating the amount of stretching for an ageing population; less pulled muscles, back ache, and headlong falls into other pews would be good.

For reluctant winkers it would be pointed out that there exist historical and geographical precedents for variations on a handshake. The writings of the early church speak of a kiss. That may cause some to reflect on their reservations about winking. In India and Thailand, a bow is prescribed; careless execution at close quarter may not promote peace.

Winking would require a consensus as it would be less than seemly for a breakaway minority to begin winking at a recalcitrant majority. It could also be argued that those who attend regularly should have more say than ‘hatch, match, and dispatch’ church goers. Such moot points would be the subject of lengthy debate and I do not have the words to express the emotions that may be unleashed.

Suffice to say, that by the time the debate has finished the roses may be in full bloom again, with winter illnesses just a distant memory.

Author: Kevin Foley ©

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