By Simmons Buntin
On the thinly paved roads of rural Oklahoma, it’s one finger raised from the top of the steering wheel. On the rolling oak hammocks of east central Texas, it’s a pinch of the hat brim in unison with a nod. In the sultry backwoods of Mississippi and Alabama, it’s raising four fingers from the gentle motion of the fanning hand.
And in the southeastern Arizona community of Civano and Sierra Morado, it’s surprisingly absent. I’m talking about waving to neighbors to say hello. Many of the communities I’ve been to have their own, slightly unique way of waving hello. Yet I’m often surprised to find that a number of people in Civano and Sierra Morado don’t wave.
A History of Waving?
A quick search on the Internet didn’t turn up much regarding a history of waving to say hello — there’s a hit Christian single titled “Just Wave Hello” from Charlotte Church that appears to be more about the Apocalypse than greeting your neighbors (though apparently it will be used in the upcoming Olympics); Mao Tse Tung in a permanent blue-handed wave, looking more out of necessity than neighborliness; and people in personal photos from all over the world waving hello, and they seem to really mean it. But nothing about the monumental “first wave,” or perhaps, how waving started as a tradition on the savannahs of Africa to get another person’s attention over the tall grass.
What’s clear, though, is that waving is a universally accepted way of saying hello when the voice just won’t do — and sometimes even when it will.
In fairness, I should say I don’t see that much waving when I’m driving in the neighborhoods — between me and the pedestrian or other driver — or when I’m walking — between me and someone driving. But there are even times when I’m walking or riding my bike and my wave is not returned by another person walking, or running, or cycling.
Perhaps people don’t wave so much when a vehicle is involved because of the speed of the car, or the inherent dichotomy between soft-fleshed pedestrian and steel-skinned automobile, or even the glint of the sun off the windshield.
The Case for Waving
Rather than exploring the causes for our apparent lack of waving, however, I’d like to make a case for increased waving: it makes Civano and Sierra Morado friendlier and safer places.
That waving to say hello makes our neighborhood a friendlier place is obvious. Greeting folks, whether verbally or through friendly hand gestures, provides positive reinforcement for our attachment to this place, and the other people who live here. Like the difference between a dog’s playful bark and an aggressive growl, a simple hand wave is a welcome sign that we are, after all, welcome.
So how can waving actually make a place safer? Here’s a scenario: I pull into the neighborhood in the middle of the day, when in my particular section of Civano most of the children are in school and parents are at work, or out running errands. I wave to an exiting neighbor as I pull in, the letter carrier as she loads mail into one of the streetside stations, and a construction worker who’s traveling a bit too fast on Civano Boulevard. My wave says hello, but also signals him to slow down, which in fact he does.
Now the neighborhood’s just a bit safer, right? Yes, but that’s not all. As I pull onto Thunder Sky, I notice someone turning into a carriage lane who I haven’t seen before. Our eyes meet and I wave. He stops, looking a bit confounded, and waves back, but quickly turns away.
A criminal? Probably not, but it’s documented that robbers and other criminals are less likely to victimize a neighborhood where they can be identified. By being waved to, a criminal has been acknowledged. In being acknowledged, that person could be identified — or there’s a risk of that in the criminal’s mind, which makes this neighborhood a less attractive target.
Simply waving to folks — which I admit makes me feel better, to boot — creates a sense of friendliness and safety that is just another step in making Civano and Sierra Morado a more cohesive and outstanding community. I look forward to waving hello to you soon!