A Tip of the Hat

The other day I witnessed something that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. It used to be a normal part of etiquette. I imagine it can largely only be found in small communities now. The purposes of the act that I witnessed seem to have almost disappeared from our culture: respect, appreciation, and acknowledgement. A man tipped his hat.

The history of tipping or removing one’s hat dates back for centuries. While much of the etiquette guidelines remain, few remain in practice. The reasons and rules for the gestures are nicely explained here. Whether to wear a hat or not, and whether to follow the etiquette or not matter less to me than the loss of the reasons behind the rules:  public display of respect, appreciation and acknowledgement.

Several books could be (and likely already have been) written regarding the many reasons for the near extinction of various signs of simple courtesy. I’m confident in my understanding of why, but now is not the time or place to dwell there.

The gesture of removing or tipping one’s hat affects the one who did it, the one for whom it was done and those who witness the act. Such behavior affects others and, ultimately, society at large.

The same is true for other gestures, too: opening doors for others, stepping aside for others to pass, waving greetings, using “sir” or “ma’am” in interactions, smiling, patting on the shoulder or back. There are many ways of showing respect, appreciation and acknowledgement. At the root of all them is a simple awareness that people are people, worthy of respect, and all of us have a role to play in connecting to one another.

We could use more hat tipping.

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