A Salute – The Choreography of Respect

A salute is a gesture so common and so important that we often overlook the art of it. Part choreography – part theatrical performance – it is one of the ways societies help us express what needs expressing. If we didn’t have this common way – regulated way – well, we might not recognize a respectful gesture when we see one. One person may bow their head with a thumbs up. Perhaps another does the Namaste greeting. Would a hearty pat on the back do the trick? Fist bump? A salute is way more comprehensive than any of those attempts. It is too important an expression to be left to chance.

The individual salute is a military custom expressing respect for officers of a superior rank – as well as respect for symbols of our nation, such as the American flag carried by military personnel marching in formation. Just like ballet is built on specific positions and steps, so, too, is the act of saluting. The precise position of the hand. Its angle – and stiffness. Where the saluters position their eyes. When they initiate and end the salute – all defined. Whom to salute and what to salute – all defined. A soldier needn’t salute every flag on front porches – but – when …. All defined. Framed.

There are guidelines for almost every imaginable situation. For example, if individual soldiers are not in formation when an officer approaches, the group is called to “Attention” by the first person noticing the officer. When the officer is approximately 6 paces away, everyone in the group salutes. Group precision is part of the performance, showing group discipline, commitment and respect. No showboaters here.

Just like a painting is framed, or a musical or theatrical performance ends with applause, these rituals are contained. The framing helps us pay attention when and where it matters. We express ourselves in ways that are sure to be understood – with little room for misinterpretation.

Perhaps those of you with a military background could have an informal ‘salute-in’ with neighborhood children. Boys and girls alike. Make it fun to see how quickly they can all snap to attention when you come around the corner. This could be a wonderful way to help them appreciate the importance of the rituals and expressions in their lives.

I salute you all.

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