Tuesday Talkback: Who should use the Scout handshake?

Tuesday-TalkbackSave your right-handed handshakes for boardrooms and networking luncheons. Scouts do things a little differently.

The Scout handshake, offered around the world as a token of friendship, uses the left hand, which is the one closest to the heart.

Page 20 of the Boy Scout Handbook offers this two-sentence description: “Extend your left hand to another Scout and firmly grasp his left hand. Made with the hand nearest your heart, the Scout handshake signifies friendship.”

The Scout handshake uses no interlocking fingers; it’s just a normal left-handed handshake. Other programs within Scouting, including the Order of the Arrow and Cub Scouting, have handshake variants that you’ll learn about upon joining those programs.

But last week a Scout mom asked me whether the Scout handshake is for her. And it raised the question of who should use this left-handed clasp and who shouldn’t. Here’s her email:

Bryan,

I’m “just a mom” and I am wondering if the Scout handshake is for me. I’m not a Scout! My son is SPL [senior patrol leader] of our troop and as he was delivering new ranks at our last court of honor, I told him that he would shake the Scouts’ left hands but the parents’ right hands. Now I’d like YOU to tell me what’s correct! I also took him to an OA event where some of the leadership there shook my left hand. I’m so confused!

Thanks,

Michelle

Michelle, it turns out there’s no resident expert on the Scout handshake that I could find, but I think I have a pretty good, um, grasp on the topic after more than 20 years in Scouting and reading the Boy Scout Handbook.

Because the handbook’s instructions indicate extending the left hand “to another Scout,” I would consider it inappropriate to use the left-handed handshake with someone who isn’t a Scout.

In this case, I’d define a “Scout” as a male or female youth or adult member in any BSA program.

As for parents, using the left-handed handshake with a mom or dad might make that parent feel awkward. We’ve all been there where we extend our left hand to someone who simultaneously puts out their right. It’s uncomfortable, and I think it’s best to leave the left-handed handshakes to someone who understands the custom. We want parents to feel at ease and welcome when they visit courts of honor, blue and gold banquets or other unit events.

Additionally, there may be some parents (and even Scouts and Scouters) who because of their culture are not willing to shake using the left hand. There are some cultures, too, that don’t like to shake hands at all. We should respect their wishes.

Some units, meanwhile, have a policy to only use the Scout handshake while in Scout uniform. I can find no argument against that practice and would leave that decision to the unit’s leaders (adult leaders in Cub Scouts and youth leaders in Boy Scouts and Venturers).

Thanks, Michelle, for the question. But as this is a Tuesday Talkback, I’d love to open this question up for discussion: When do you use the Scout handshake? And how’d you come up with that practice?

About Bryan Wendell 2880 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.