Posted by: morgan1965 | April 23, 2009

What’s in a Handshake?

Either as a matter of tradition or boxing protocol, down through the years, professional boxing matches have been started with these words from the referee: “Shake hands and come out fighting.” This statement constitutes the referee’s direct counsel to two boxers who are poised to pummel each other with clenched fists. The objective is to win the match at all costs.

It is no doubt true that handshakes do matter. It also matters as to who the hand shakers are and who is assessing the handshake. The circumstances of the handshake also matter.

What does it mean to shake hands in the context of a boxing ring or in any context?
More importantly, what is the meaning of a handshake?

I am curious about this question, because President Barack Obama is being criticized by some politicians, since he shook hands with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, a vocal critic of the United States. This exchange came during the recent Summit of the Americas Conference. What is the meaning of a handshake in such a context? These critics have suggested that the president should not have greeted President Chavez with a handshake as it somehow denoted some degree of support for his previous unacceptable antics.

What should a gentleman/gentlewoman do under those circumstances? Perhaps it was a matter of protocol. What response would be dictated by tradition? What reaction would be acceptable under political protocol?

It can be noted that some handshakes seemingly change history. An example of this would be the time when Ronald Reagan warmly shook hands with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The meeting of these two heads of state led to the first treaty to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. Ultimately the world witnessed the end of the cold war.

It is my understanding that a handshake is a brief ritual in which two people grasp each other’s hand, right or left. This grasp of hands is often accompanied by a short pumping movement of the grasped hands. The actual origin of the handshake is obscure. Some researchers have suggested that the handshake might have originated as a gesture of peace in that it demonstrated that the hand was holding no weapon.

One initiates the handshake when two hands touch. We typically employ the handshake as a sign of greeting, parting, gratitude, congratulations or agreement. Athletes use the handshake to signify good sportsmanship. It also can be argued that the handshake conveys a sense of trust.

Generally speaking, it is considered to be inappropriate or even rude, to reject a handshake without good reason.

What is a good reason for refusing a hand that is offered to you, or to anyone?



  1. what is a good reason, indeed?

    also, i think often of jesus’ hands. to whom did he extend a hand? to whom would he have refused to reach out? in accordance with scripture, i have been praying for many of my/our ‘enemies’ surely i should extend a hand then, or at least be ready to grasp a hand that is extended?

  2. Handshaking, salutes, other gestures, all have to do with respect. Honor. To refuse is insulting. To ignore, to see through someone, to talk down to another. It’s like the flu. Contageous. And it’s me oh Lord standing in the need . . .

  3. As I read the Scriptures, particularly Matthew 23, I see Jesus calling it as He sees it, and He saw it clearly.

    Matthew 25:27,28 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

    I think the President probably should have gone ahead and shaken hands with Hugo Chavez, otherwise, President Obama would have looked small. However, I think it is wise to remember that when someone shows you what they are, that you believe them. Mr Chavez has not shown himself to be respectful of our country or our President, regardless of the outward appearance of his “friendly” handshake.

    When someone has shown himself to be unfriendly, yet extends his hand, I think we should take the Lord’s advice to “be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves,” — (Matt. 10:16)

  4. Originally or historically, handshakes were given to show your opponent you do not have a weapon in your hand. The right hand was customary for hand shaking, because the left hand was used for another hygenic purpose!!! Most anthropologist hold this fact as truth. Put fourth your hand and show me you have no weapon, thus it became customary when folks greeted one another.

  5. There’s certainly a great deal to know about this issue. I really like all of the points you have made.

  6. The hand is extended twice in the Bible. Granted it does not specifically say that a handshake occurs but it is implied by the nature of the scripture. Both times – 2 Kings 10:15 and 2 Samuel 15:5 – it was linked to deceit. In the incident 80 humans were slaughter instead of being converted to the Lord. In the second instance Absalom, again in deceit, for one reason, to attempt to overthrow his father.

    Look to the scripture and what does the scripture say about deceit. Is not deceit telling a lie or a form of a lie. The Holy Bible is very clear about lying and how God conceives it.

    As a pure Methodist (life long), I have a problem with a ritual that originated from a Pagan culture, appears in the Bile as a precursor to death and insurrection and then is adopted by a secular society to be used in a religious ceremony. Furthermore, in a society where if a male looks cross-eyed at a female she can smear his name all over the internet.

    In conclusion, Why are we, the United Methodist, so caught up in such nonsense as to spent so much time and energy on this and so little time on prayer. Tell it like it is brothers and sisters. 100 UMC members worshiping in a service spending 5 minutes handshaking = 500 total minutes, A.K.A.8-1/3 man-hours wasted in an hour service. Compare that to the time spent in prayer. Prayer is hard work and in our feel goo society we take the easy way out.

    A Resident Alien.
    Paul W. Bennett

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