You approach a person with your hand extended in greeting. But he or she keeps those palms protected inside pockets. What next?
A Kansas City-area event planning business hawks “I Shake Hands” stickers to help ease awkward social encounters. That’s in spite of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s statement last year, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again.”
To shake, or not to shake? As workers return to offices, friends reunite, and church services resume, people are befuddled. Is it safe to shake hands?
Different countries have different codes of conduct, but handshakes have been around for centuries. They may have originated during medieval times to prove that a person was offering peace and not holding a hidden weapon. These days, the greeting is almost instinctual. President Theodore Roosevelt set a record with about 8,510 handshakes at a White House reception on January 1, 1907. When someone sticks out a hand, it can be hard—or awkward—to avoid taking it.
“You can make phone calls all you want, and you can meet with people online via Zoom call. But it is just not the same as being able to reach out your hand and shake their hand, look them in the eye, and really establish that rapport,” says Dave McClain of Kansas.
Are handshakes a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic? Possibly. The pandemic has made people wary of one another, setting aside the cultural norm of handshake greetings (not to mention friendly hugs!). And cultural traditions can change over time.
Have you seen someone hold open a door for someone else recently? How often does a gentleman pull out a woman’s chair and stand until she is seated? Is it still common for a man to walk on the street side of a sidewalk in order to protect female companions from passing traffic? Do younger people give up seats on buses or trains for the elderly?
The Bible mentions a tradition that has faded since early biblical history. Foot washing was a common, welcoming practice in Hebrew homes. It showed honor to a guest. It also refreshed tired, dirty soles. In Luke 7:44, Jesus rebukes Simon the Pharisee, saying, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.” Over the years, as shoes and transportation developed, the foot washing tradition dissolved.
Are handshakes soon to be lost to history too? God created people for interaction and touch. We hope the handshake isn’t waving goodbye.
Why? Part of being in community involves appropriate, friendly touch with other humans. But cultural traditions and trends do change, and Christians should sift those changes to help guide them along biblical patterns.