Humor Writing, Memoir, Personal Essays

Universal Recognition Symbol

A year ago, I wrote about the Universal Recognition Symbol – something I learned when I was staying in the Truk Islands. It’s an easy and instant way for people to say: “I see you, I recognize you, I acknowledge you.”

To see exactly what I’m talking about, here’s a video of my family doing the Universal Recognition Symbol:

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Hellooo! The Universal Recognition Signal

Early in the 1970’s, I had the good fortune of being appointed head of Internal Medicine for the Truk Islands of Micronesia, located in the Western Pacific (upon its independence in the 1990s, Truk is now referred to as Chuuk). This appointment also led me to be named Chief of Diving Medicine for the United Nations Trust Territories of the Pacific. Little did I know how much I would learn from the native people and how much it would influence me through the rest of my own medical practice and life in general.

While based in Truk, I was intrigued with how well my fellow Trukese health workers coordinated their jobs without so much as speaking a word. Eventually, I became aware of their non-verbal form of communication. It is a simple-but-quick raising of the eyebrows—one or two times. Apparently, this stands for a great many things, depending on the situation. Basically, it means: “I see you, I recognize you, I acknowledge you.”

Try it out yourself, but do not use it indiscriminately. You don’t need to be looking directly into another’s eye to get results as this signal can get the attention of another even through their peripheral vision. Many people won’t look you directly in the eye but they will eye you by using their peripheral vision. The signal also works when your reflection is being observed.

I have since discovered that other primal groups in Africa and Papua New Guinea and even many Native American Tribes use these same eye movements to communicate the same ideas. I now use this subtle form of communication when I am in all sorts of societies, including our own garden variety American, mostly with good results!

Because of the universality of this signal and its potent effect on humans, I call it the “Universal Recognition Signal (URS)TM.”