Question 324 of 365: Why should I shake your hand?

Two people shaking hand
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I don’t know that I will ever get very good at shaking hands.

Try as I might, I seem to foul it up somewhere along the way. Whether it is in the firmness of the handshake or reaching out too soon. I always seem to be the one waiting around for the reciprocation of intention. I’ve got nothing wrong with the custom, and I definitely see its importance for starting the introduction process. The issue I have is that it represents an awkward exchange of contact info, a hideously inefficient way to remember names and faces. Plus, I’m no good at the act itself.

After I leave my hand out far too long and either squeeze the new contact’s hand off or apply the wet fish experience to them, I state my name, listen for theirs and then promptly forget it. I have no context for the meeting as of this point and I don’t know who this player is at all. I find myself making a crib sheet of all of the new people that I have met in my Google Docs notes or on a napkin if I’m to be without devices at this meeting. The handshakes have meant nothing because the rest of the info was still waiting to be said.

I wrestle with the notion that we should all just put Bump on our phones and do that instead of shaking hands. But then, of course, we would lose that human touch and everything would be about your identity and importance rather than just looking someone in the eyes and knowing them as the person standing in front of you.

And yet, I look into those eyes as I meet someone for the first time and I don’t know what to think. I don’t know if you are someone I can trust or if you are someone who has ulterior motives. I don’t know where your allegiance lies or whether you are the type to reflect and write. If I shake your hand, am I saying that I am starting something that I can’t finish.? Am I saying that you are someone that I would like to become acquainted with, even though I have no frame of reference except for the fates have conspired to bring us together? Are you the type of person that I would like to hang out with after work? Are you going to provide me with a wealth of resources and ideas down the line? My mind races to come up with all of the possible scenarios of how this relationship will play out. And none of them are done justice by the unorthodox hand holding I just gave you.

I can’t refuse to shake hands either. I can’t reserve judgment and then introduce myself at the end of a lovely conversation. I tried this once with a woman at a dinner party. I had been talking with her all evening and we had shared quite a bit about ourselves. At the end of the dinner with The Royal Fondue Society, I shook her hand and told her my name. She looked at me with a mix of disgust and surprise. She said, “I know who you are.” I felt as though I had insulter her intelligence when all I wanted to confirm was that we were going to know each other for longer and that she was going to remember me beyond the evening. I botched the whole thing and I haven’t had another direct conversation with her since.

The handshake is a double edged sword. If you do it as you are supposed to, the only thing gained is saving face. You do not gain the information you need to construct an understanding of what will transpire. You certainly do not seal any deals upon just meeting someone. If you do it wrong (i.e, too late in the relationship or with too littler/not enough gusto), you may gain more understanding about the relationship or show just how little you think of the ritual, but odds are that you will be relegated to the heap of people that simply do not understand social customs and you will therefore be unusable to the vast majority of the people you meet.

So, I will shake your hand. I will leave the conclusions and context for a later time. I will make nice with the custom that haunts me. I will do this because I know that once I get beyond this silly little ritual, I can get to the good stuff. I can talk and listen and create a community around the table. Those are the things I am good at. And so if I must submit to the shaking of hands, so be it.

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0 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Interesting post! I think it would be amazing to see all the different opinions people have regarding shaking hands. I agree that it is a formality and that we don’t want to lose human touch. However, I know a number of people do get concerned about germs at this point. I think you can tell some about a person from shaking their hand, looking into their eyes, and watching their facial/body language. It generally isn’t going to be enough to know if you can trust them or if you are both working in the best interest of children, but I do feel it is an invitation. This is an invitation to get to know each other and see if we make each other stronger for the good of the world or if we were simply passing glances/handshakes.

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