What’s the message?


It seems to me that we encounter lots of non-verbal communications every day – particularly gestures that need no spoken word to convey their meaning and are usually easily understood regardless of language. I recall a story about a meeting involving different nationalities where the host was impatiently trying to get visitors to stop from chattering among themselves in their own language. In desperation he turned to one of the interpreters and asked for help. The interpreter smiled, turned towards the group, put a raised forefinger vertically to his lips, tapped them with his finger – and the chattering stopped.

To further illustrate what I mean, here are a few we see used in road construction areas or accident scenes by traffic controllers. The hand signal of an extended arm with the palm facing outward is a clear signal to “stop” while an extended arm with the palm facing inward in a repeated sweeping motion means “come ahead in the direction shown.” Both arms raised with palms facing outward with a repeated pushing motion means “back up.” Both palms facing inward with the hands and arms repeatedly moving towards the body means “come ahead.” Yep, no problem in understanding what is meant.

Relying on symbols to convey a message requires some caution, however, because some non-verbal symbols may be interpreted in different ways than intended. For example, the sign we commonly use meaning “okay”, that is, a circle formed by the thumb and forefinger or middle finger, is considered an obscene gesture in some parts of the world – kinda like the raised middle finger. Yep, gotta be careful that the message sent is the one received.

So why bring up such a topic? Well, there has recently been quite a bit of turmoil surrounding the action of a professional football player, Colin Kaepernick, during the playing of our national anthem. Mr Kaepernick was born to a teenage, unwed white woman. His birth father, an African American, left his mother before he was born. Being destitute, she placed her son for adoption with a white couple, the Kaepernicks. who already had two children, and they raised him.

Mr. Kaepernick’s athletic prowess became evident as he played high school football, basketball and baseball and was nominated for California all-state selection in all three sports his senior year. He turned down numerous scholarship offers to play baseball instead accepting a football scholarship offer to play quarterback at Nevada where he had an outstanding career. He was twice named the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and was the Most Valuable Player of the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft and is still with the 49ers where he is reportedly paid around $11 million a year. A truly fascinating success story.

OK, back to non-verbal communication and symbolism. Most everyone knows the protocol when our national anthem is played. All who are capable of doing so should stand. Individuals in military or law enforcement uniform, members of the armed forces not in uniform, and veterans, should give the military salute. Men wearing a headdress should remove it and join all others in placing their right hand over the heart – a very clear symbol of respect for our country.

Well, Mr Kaepernick has decided to use a different symbol during playing of the national anthem to show his disrespect, his disdain, for the country where he has risen from humble origins to fame and fortune. Instead of standing, he goes down on one knee.

Ironically, this practice, known as “genuflecting”, has been around for centuries as a sign of respect and service. It arose from the honor given to medieval kings where one demonstrated respect for a king or noble by going down on one knee – often remaining there until told to rise. The custom has persisted into modern times such as when, at a funeral of a fallen veteran, a folded US flag is offered to the family. The presenting officer may go down on the left knee as a symbol of respect and remain so until the flag is accepted. Genuflecting is also traditionally performed in western cultures by a male making a proposal of marriage. He remains on one knee as a symbol of respect and love until the offer is accepted or rejected.

I wonder if Mr Kaepernick and his imitators realize they are actually using a time-honored way of showing respect and devotion by going to one knee throughout our entire national anthem. Well, if they don’t understand that, it’s their problem, not ours. At least that’s how it seems to me.


By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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