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Ventura County's Support-Local Program

With A Shake Of The Hand

Handshakes say more than just “hello.” What does your handshake tell people? Here is Kat Merrick‘s take on the history and true meaning of the handshake.

What does Albert Einstein’s handshake say about his state of mind?

What kind of handshake do you have?

How is your handshake? Firm? Tight? Weak? Uninterested? Handshakes were one of the earliest forms of a binding contract. Before legal contracts were commonplace, people shook hands to agree on the price of land or livestock or debts owed. It united countries and kingdoms. It cemented agreements, showed intent to honor ones word and, in turn, keep ones honor.

A brief history of handshakes

The actual beginning of the handshake dates back before written history. The ancient Greeks used it as a welcoming sign of friendliness, hospitality and trust. In Medieval times, when two men would meet, it was used as a way to show that neither person possessed concealed weapons or intended harm to the other. The handshake, then and now, is a vital part of an agreement and is a sign of trust shown to another person. This is why you see diplomats end meetings with a handshake; presidents and foreign leaders greet each other with the shake of hands; secret orders, fraternities, and sororities include handshakes among their rituals; and all business transactions start and end with a good old-fashioned handshake. The shaking of hands creates interaction. Each person must stop and share in a brief ritual that indicates that both parties are paying attention and showing respect to the other. It displays the equality of the two people meeting.

Teach your children well

My father always taught me to look a person in the eye when shaking their hand and give a firm grip. He said the way a person shakes your hand tells everything about this person. If someone cannot look you in the eye, then they are not to be trusted. This lesson has been invaluable in my life and has helped me time and time again.

Dad was right

Recently, several of our team members and I had a meeting with a representative from a local company. He wanted to partner with our event business so we met with him to review an event we were working on. All during the meeting my gut instinct kept kicking in, telling me to not trust this individual. At the end of the meeting he shook hands with each of us and, when it was my turn, all the warning alarms where in full swing: weak handshake, inability to look me in the eye, arrogance. I knew this would not end well. As it turns out, my gut was correct. This person not only showed no respect for legal contracts that he had signed, no respect for friends he drew into this and, even worse, no intent to honor his word which he had given time and time again. Lesson learned. Dad was right! My father’s words have been ringing loud and clear in my head these past two weeks. He would say that acting in such a dishonorable fashion is worse than being a coward but that the consequences are much deeper. You see, you can always regain your courage but you will never regain your honor once lost. Sadly for this young man, he just doesn’t get it. But, someday soon, I hope he will. No matter what the generation, the importance of the handshake cannot be lost. And a person would be foolish to overlook this importance. For me, I will keep trusting in the telling signs of a handshake. I will hold my grip firmly, look you in the eye and hope that you will know my word is as good as gold!


  1. Nice article

  2. And a nice firm hand shake to you all. It sure is a great time to be alive in Ventura.

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