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Make the world better - wave at passersby

Dr. Susan Mathison, Catalyst Medical Center

Though I grew up in Fargo, I never spent much time outside of the city. Most of our relatives lived in Minnesota, and not far off the major thoroughfares. When I moved back to North Dakota after residency training, I met new friends who lived in more rural areas. I noticed a curious phenomena. There was a lot of waving going on. "Who's that?" I'd ask as we met another car or truck or tractor along the road. "I don't know," was the answer. "Then why do you wave?" I'd ask. "Just because."

Custom, tradition, friendliness, acknowledgement ... I really like the wave. I'd always given a courtesy thank you wave for a kindness shown while driving, but this ritual went beyond that. It was given "just because" and sometimes a quick smile was added for an extra dose of cheer. Call it country, call it Texas Friendly, call it Minnesota/North Dakota Nice. The wave is a good thing.

Anne Dingus of the Texas Monthly writes:

"By using it, we convey our goodwill to our fellow drivers and reaffirm our reliance on each other during long trips across isolated country. The hi sign is strictly a highway courtesy, an automotive gesture developed for a modern age. A person on horse or on foot raises his whole hand, but the demands of travel on wheels dictated a specialized wave. Body language for "howdy," the hi sign is the simplest of waves, merely the raising of the forefinger of the driving hand, which does not budge from its draped position across the top of the steering wheel, the attitude struck by most long-distance or travel-wise drivers ... it wastes no energy; it is a model of efficiency, like all nonessential movements by country folks who must save their labor for the land."

Sometimes the gesture expands from a lonely index finger to a two-finger salute, a peace sign without the V. Eye contact is attempted, but rarely achieved because of the usually speedy pass by of the drivers.

An online writer from Kentucky suggested one finger off the wheel for a stranger. Two fingers up means we have passed before, while a whole hand wave is given to a beer buddy or neighbor. A local cop or state patrol is honored with a whole hand wave and an appreciative nod.

Beyond rural areas, the wave unites Corvette owners, Jeep drivers and Harley riders. Even the Mini-Cooper crowd has a wave. A Wisconsin blog commenter joked that he'd heard that VW Bug drivers go beyond the wave. They stop, exchange flowers and talk about their feelings.

The world would probably be a better place if we all did the wave. We'd have a sense of the world being a smaller, friendlier place. We'd look for ways to show courtesy on the roads. Road rage might fizzle.

For those with less than civil intentions, being noticed and acknowledged might make them less inclined to rob or attack, making the world a safer place.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.

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