As far as I can recall, in over thirty years of playing club hockey, I’ve only ever had one post-game handshake refused and I’ve never declined to put my hand out to someone.
I’ll admit that there have been games when I haven’t actively sought someone out afterwards. I’m no saint. I’ll make my way to the sidelines or the sheds quickly, head down and focussed, not dawdling to make contact with every player. However, when the moment came that I either put my hand out to an adversary, or was approached by someone, even someone I didn’t like from the game, hand and eye contact has always occurred.
It’s a truism in sport, and something that I think Australians pride themselves on, that once the final whistle goes you leave it on the field and shake hands. You don’t have to mean it, but a mumbled “good game”, “well played” or simply “thanks mate” is what’s expected.
That can be hard of course. Saying “thanks” to someone you felt treated you badly during a game can test the boundaries of your good nature.
But declining a handshake from an opponent is a very visible slight, something that even your own teammates would call you on, that reflected poorly on them and the club, so the outstretched hand at the conclusion of a game must always be taken.
That’s in sport.
But what of life away from the sweaty fields of play?
I have a dilemma, one I am not particularly proud of, but equally one I feel is my right to feel strongly about.
There are a few people (not many thankfully) but a handful for whom I just don’t think I could fake it and wish the best to. People for whom I cannot forgive or forget.
I know I am supposed to rise above these things, and let bygones be bygones. I know as a man I should be strong and not seem petty. As a father, particularly to my son, I should set the right example: that you always leave it on the field and shake hands after. I should live and move on, and don’t waste time with grudges and ill feeling. I realise that bitterness is a negative force and that you shouldn’t stew on things.
Away from the Almanac, I regularly contribute articles to wonderful site that is focussed on men’s health, emotional as much as physical. This site seeks to give men, who may not be too good emotionally, ideas, tips and guidance on being better men, looking after themselves, to talk about things that bother them, and being the best man they can be.
As such, I try to give solutions in my articles to difficult issues, answers to confusing things for many men, who may not be the best communicators or be keen to get in touch with how they feel.
So right about now, I should have a positive message here about forgiveness and being sensible, of rising above things like this.
But, it isn’t always like that. There are people, (interestingly enough all men), for whom I simply don’t wish to ever see again, and if I did see them, I truly don’t know if I could stick out my hand and say “how are you” or “good to see you”. Because I don’t care how they are or it isn’t good to see them.
In sport it’s different. If you play long enough, you get used to the same faces bobbing up regularly, and so you know that twice a year you’ll probably have a run in with them or get frustrated by their play. Maybe you steel yourself for it, do your best, and stick your hand out after. You don’t have to mean it, but the handshake is a ritual that is as part of the game as the formal rules.
Hockey in fact has a quaint tradition that still sees both teams clap each other onto the ground at the start of the game, line up along the centre line, three cheers for each side, and handshakes all round. Then you set about trying to kill each other for seventy minutes before shaking hands again!
Handshakes originated in medieval times, when the extending of the right hand between knights was a sign that they weren’t holding their sword, and therefore came in peace.
So a handshake is born from something positive and in sport is a way of breaking barriers, of saying that we are suspending our competitive nature to come together.
But to be blunt, (and I used to be a little ashamed at this but I now I’m OK with it), not only do I simply not wish this handful of blokes well, success or good luck, I think I’d take a degree of pleasure (and probably have) to see them fail, fall or suffer misfortune.
What sort of man does that make me?
Strangely, if I played sport against them, I’d take their hand and offer mine. And if truth be known, if I stumbled across them in the street or at a function, unexpectedly, and contact was unavoidable, if their hand came out, I’d take it, probably through force of habit and an unwillingness to make a scene.
I think the declined handshake, leaving someone hanging, is a greater insult than anything verbal. That silence, that awkwardness, that gap between you, is the worst you can do to someone.
You don’t have to offer your hand. But once it is offered to you, you really have to take it.
So if the moment arose, I’d cave, or at least take the hand without feeling or meaning, and not mouth platitudes I didn’t believe in.
I feel slighted, let down, cheated or simply not treated as I would expect to be by them in various ways, and despite having grown up around Christian ethics of forgiveness, just can’t bring myself to do so for this motley crew of people.
I wish I could forgive. However, at the same time, these people aren’t seeking my forgiveness, or my friendship. I doubt I register on their radar, or they have the vaguest idea of how I feel about them.
These people don’t burn me up, or I don’t sit stewing on this daily, plotting revenge or creating bitterness in my life that stops me from being happy. I don’t flatter or honour these few people with my attention or thoughts.
But the impact of what they did remains, clearly and tangibly in some cases, and to put it out of my mind completely would be foolish and ignoring reality.
So if I run into them again, I suppose I take their hand, and pretend we are OK for that moment, and exchange pleasantries. Even though I hope that karma has turned on them as I felt or hope it should.
It is said it takes a big man to admit he is wrong, and probably a bigger man to forgive too. Maybe I am not as big a man as I think I am.
I’d shake the hand of a bloke who 10 minutes before on the hockey field tried to maim me with his stick, but I’d not want to see a person I had a business relationship with for years? Maybe so.
I don’t have easy answers. I haven’t been tested by that outstretched hand as yet. The time may come. What sort of man will I be then?