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?