Last week in a post I shared a statistic that close to 75% of participants in a survey believe handshakes are now a relic of the past.
I also stated that I would hate to see the handshake go away, and at least a couple people agreed.
Brad from commonsensiblyspeaking, commented: “I know that the lack of shaking hands or close physical contact has been the toughest for me. Anyone who thinks that should go away forever, has never looked another man in his eyes and shook his hand about something.”
And Pete from Pete Springer states: I always greet people with a handshake or hug. While I’m sure I’ll modify this some, I suspect that after we come up with a vaccine, some of this will come back.
But not everyone is a fan of handshakes, as shown by the comments they left:
Robbie from Robbie’s Inspiration noted: I must be honest, Jim, I think the practice of shaking hands is very unhygienic. I have never volunteered my hand unless the other party put their’s out and it was unavoidable.
Margie from Back Roads and Other Stories wrote: As to handshakes, I won’t miss them at all. To me it’s a relic of a man-dominated world that should probably go away, and not for hygiene reasons only. I was in business meetings where there were very hearty handshakes between the men and there was either some hesitation before shaking my hand, or no shaking hands at all if I wasn’t the one to extend my hand out first. I thought it was bizarre at the time, but cast those thoughts aside. Seeing your post and some of the comments made this uneasy feeling resurface.
Given these different viewpoints, I thought I’d read a bit about the handshake, and came across this wonderful post that provides lots of background on the handshake. The post starts with a wonderful paragraph pointing out the many different ways people around the world greet each other:
There’s an amazing diversity of greeting customs around the world. In Tibet sticking out your tongue can be a way of welcoming people. In New Zealand, Maori greet each other by touching noses. Ethiopian men touch shoulders, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, male friends touch foreheads. In many Asian countries, people bow to each other when meeting. And in some European countries, as well as Arab countries, hugs or kisses on the cheek are more the norm. While this wasn’t always true, the most common physical way to greet people around the world is now the handshake.
The next paragraph then shared some of the histories of the handshake. As you will read, it has been around a looooong time, and initially, it played a key role in peacemaking initiatives.
The history of the handshake dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece. It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. During the Roman era, the handshake was actually more of an arm grab. It involved grabbing each other’s forearms to check that neither man had a knife hidden up his sleeve. Some say that the shaking gesture of the handshake started in Medieval Europe. Knights would shake the hand of others in an attempt to shake loose any hidden weapons.
The post ended by noting that the fist bump has replaced the handshake in many situations. One survey claims that forty-nine percent of Americans sometimes choose the fist bump over a traditional handshake greeting. The post was written at least five years ago, and I don’t think the handshake has experienced any sort of surge in popularity since the posting.
Another search of Google added a bit more history to the handshake, claiming that one of the earliest depictions of a handshake is found in a ninth-century B.C. relief, which shows the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III pressing the flesh with a Babylonian ruler to seal an alliance. The epic poet Homer described handshakes several times in his “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” most often in relation to pledges and displays of trust. The gesture was also a recurring motif in the fourth and fifth century B.C. Greek funerary art. Gravestones would often depict the deceased person shaking hands with a member of their family, signifying either a final farewell or the eternal bond between the living and the dead. In ancient Rome, meanwhile, the handshake was often used as a symbol of friendship and loyalty. Pairs of clasped hands even appeared on Roman coins.
The use as an everyday greeting is a more recent phenomenon. Some historians believe it was popularized by the 17th century Quakers, who viewed a simple handclasp as a more egalitarian alternative to bowing or tipping a hat. The greeting later became commonplace, and by the 1800s, etiquette manuals often included guidelines for the proper handshaking technique.
I am still a fan of handshakes after reading more about them, but I can understand the concerns expressed above in terms of hygiene and the fact that it tends to be a guy thing and thus women may feel left out of the greeting process.
Perhaps if we trusted people to keep their hands clean, which the world has gotten better at due to COVID-19, and made sure that the gesture was done in to be appropriate for men and women, then I think the handshake can return to its humble roots, and be used as a sign of friendship.
*image from Euro News