Opinion | Biff America: Hand gestures to strangers
My behavior was more of an instinctive response than a deliberate act. The guy in the SUV with Okie tags offered me the universally recognized hand gesture, and I responded in kind.
If size matters, he had me out-gunned. I was driving an Italian motor scooter, and he was piloting a passenger vehicle large enough to be seen from outer space.
We approached the intersection at roughly the same time. In truth, I might have arrived there slightly ahead of him. I believe I had the right of way.
But I motioned him through for two reasons: The first being that in many Oklahoma counties, the right of way is established by who is wearing the largest belt buckle, and my pants were held up by a drawstring. The second was that street in question had been undergoing construction since the Hoover administration and my scooter does not do well on gravel.
As he maneuvered his large unit past me, his open window came within a few feet of my scoot. He looked down on me, we made eye contact, he gestured, I immediately responded, and we drove our separate ways.
As I rolled away, it dawned on me. That was the first peace sign I had given in decades. I felt pretty good about the exchange — two strangers, one from the north, the other from the south, one local, the other a guest — offering each other a gesture signifying a fellowship and harmony.
Even in the ’60s and ’70s, I never was a peace sign type of guy. Rather, I favored the raised fist, power to the people gesture.
Though I’ve always had respect for the hippie philosophy (especially the free love part) I never considered myself one. Also, I was of the mind that the notion of peace is too important and profound to be represented by waving two fingers in the air or to be trivialized by popular culture.
Of late, I’ve been seeing more peace salutations on the street and in letters and emails. Now the word peace has replaced my usual go-to closings of emails like sincerely, take care, cheers and don’t let your meat loaf.
Up to the point of my encounter with the Okie, I’ve refrained from following suit when given that two-finger salute. It wasn’t that I was making a statement, but it wasn’t an instinctive gesture for me. Since then, it seems flashing the peace sign seems natural and needed — not necessarily just because of foreign conflicts, but also in response to the domestic political divisiveness.
I think it is safe to say most of us want peace, even soldiers who are trying to kill each other. I also think it is safe to say the soldiers want peace more than the people who are sending them to war.
My mother, when arguing for the logic of electing more female politicians, would say women are less likely to send troops to war because, on some level, they would consider every boy their son.
The peace sign itself originated in Great Britain in the late ’50s during the nuclear disarmament movement. But the two-finger hand gesture predated that with origins as early as World War II. There are famous photos of Winston Churchill and, later, Richard Nixon with arms up with a victory sign given with both hands. The antiwar and counter culture movements appropriated the symbol and gesture in the early ’60s.
All the above was new to me. It wasn’t until I googled “origins of the peace sign” that I learned the aforementioned history. I also learned that a backward two-finger salute (one where the back of the hand faces the recipient) means something altogether different, more in line with the obsequious middle finger gesture.
After discovering that, I’ve been wracking my brain to remember the exact hand position of my fellow motorist. That could cause me to rethink the entire exchange.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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