Strolling down a quiet street in East Texas, a small, white window sign catches my eye.

“Where a handshake still means something,” read the black letters.

Pausing, I couldn’t help but find myself transported back to learning the ropes of life as a young adult and how one conducts himself as a person of character. A world where your word is stronger than any signature on a piece of paper, a handshake universally binds you to another, and your name is the most valuable possession you’ll ever own.

The black-and-white letters hung with me as a full moon looked over my shoulder, casting my shadow toward the building.

Life really is that simple, I thought. And are we making sure to pass these timeless concepts to future generations? And if not, what will this mean?

I’ve bought cars, houses and deeply apologized over a handshake. And never was there a question by either end of the grasp about what was being communicated or committed. The deal was done or the apology accepted.

Today, I pay for items with the swipe of my phone or by inserting a small plastic card into a reader. I can also spend thousands of dollars by clicking a mouse over a small image on a computer screen. Nothing is real, nothing is said — only ones and zeros racing around the globe in small packets of data.

I increasingly miss the currency of the handshake. Binding, personal and universally accepted as more valuable than gold. As much as technology continues to pull us into a world absent of looking one another in the eyes, I take great comfort in knowing people of true character never walk away from a handshake.

A friend once casually tossed out a phrase after explaining why he’d done something to help another in need.

“Heck, that is just the cowboy way,” he said. He was tall, his words slow and his word gold.

I thought about his words and the emotional gravity they projected. Your word is good, your handshake binding, and doing the right thing is nonnegotiable. And at every opportunity, he did.

The sign kept looking at me. I thought about the tradition of teaching young people to look another directly in the eyes when speaking, being sincere in their commitments, and only offering a handshake when they are ready to conclude an agreement or reach a mutual understanding.

Are we making sure to instill these values in current and future generations? I hope so. These values and traditions are critical predictors of a person as they go through life.

I wonder where this is all leading, that is are these basic tenets of maturity going to end up in the scrap heap of society? The outcome is nothing short of unnerving. To have our most valuable currency evaporate, replaced by digital signatures or passwords, is to potentially undermine our trust in each other.

My friend clearly knows what his word and handshake mean. Let’s hope technology doesn’t delete this valuable tradition.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207;

President & Publisher of The Galveston County Daily News.

(6) comments

Doyle Beard

Leonard so sorry to say but this tradition died many, many years ago. In my opinion this has caused a tremendous erosion of values in America. Lets bring back Honesty and Integrity to our country. I believe greed has been a big factor.
I can remember in the 40s my father and grandfather could walk into the First National Bank of my hometown talk to the president and get a loan to make a crop to be paid back after the farming season . If my Dad and Grandad did not make enough to repay loan they worked the winter to pay off and things would start over the next year.
I remember my Dad going to Houston in the fall, working at the port of Houston and coming home at Christmas time with apples, oranges, nuts and maybe one small toy for each of us 3 boys. We played all year with that toy.One year one bicycle for 3 boys. Was wonderful as we were so thankful.My Dad and
Grandfather were just like the rest in the community, you could take their word to the bank. Remember two words honest and integrity and what it would do for our country. Don't forget there are many good people with these values but we need a lot more.

Ken Hufstetler

Still, there are many people in this country that consider a handshake more binding than a piece of paper. The number may be dwindling, but I hope not.

Doyle Beard

Ken I am sorry to say I believe its dwindling from what I observe these days

Jose' Boix

Agree; I still remember buying my first house/home in Texas City with a handshake as the "contractural confirmation of the deal."

Kelly Naschke

Jose....there are still some realtors where a handshake means more than paperwork...ME being one of them! The title companies need their contracts though.

Jose' Boix

Kelly, I understand the need of the paperwork. I just like the act of the handshake as a symbol or gesture of a signature of agreement. I thinks that symbolism of the gesture is what some of us feel is disappearing.

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