“Put ‘er there!”


Like the origins of many social practices, that of the handshake is rather murky.

Sculptures and funerary stelai (stone or wooden slabs, generally taller than they are wide, erected in ancient societies as monuments) dating from as far back as Fifth Century B.C.E. Greece portray people clasping hands. However, we do not quite know the meaning of the gesture back then.

It is also posited that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the Western world to the handshake in the late Sixteenth Century C.E.

Like many people, I was taught that shaking hands came about in Medieval Europe, when knights extended their empty right hands to show that they were not armed, and therefore coming close did not pose a risk. (I guess left-handed people – like me – got stabbed a lot with swords and daggers.)

Regardless which theory appeals to you, I think shaking hands has generally become as empty a gesture as parroting, “Have a nice day,” or, “Have a good one.”

A while back I decided to do my bit to resurrect the meaningful handshake. I began shaking hands with, and saying, “Thank you,” to all manner of folks, particularly those whose vocations provide the services on which I depend. Among these are auto mechanics, delivery people, grocery store clerks and driveway raising estimators, to name but a few. In cold weather I make it a point to remove my glove before offering someone my hand. I also try not to rattle off “thank you,” but say it with honest sincerity.

How to people react to this? In my experience the overwhelming majority of them are pleasantly surprised, particularly when I take off my glove as a prelude to shaking their hands. The gesture often elicits a smile and the reply, “You’re welcome!”

Full disclosure: being human, now and then I fail to shake hands when busyness, grumpiness or absentmindedness are at the forefront of my mind. However, the more I make the practice a part of everyday life, the more inclined I am to remember to do it.

I hope you will consider shaking hands and saying thank you more often!




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