Why is the Scout handshake done with the left hand?

Scouting-101-logoShaking hands using your left hand can feel a bit awkward at first, but it becomes second nature after a while.

And why shouldn’t it? It’s the Scouting way.

The left-handed handshake unites two Scouts from anywhere on the planet. But why is this nonverbal greeting done with the left hand?

That was on the mind of a Boy Scout who emailed me last week.

Hi my name is Chris, and I am a Life Scout. Today while at school someone asked me why Boy Scouts shake with their left hand and not their right when meeting people. I tried to answer them, but then I realized that I don’t even know. It would help a lot if you could answer this.

Chris, your fellow Boy Scouts have been asking that question for nearly 90 years.

Daniel Carter Beard, one of the founding fathers of the BSA, answered a question from a Scout named Jack Belkin in the June 1929 issue of Boys’ Life magazine. Here’s Beard’s very detailed response:

By agreement of the Scout Leaders throughout the world, Boy Scouts greet Brother Scouts with a left-hand clasp. This means of greeting is also used in connection with all Scout gatherings. It is intended to have this different method serve to remind Scouts that they belong to a world-wide brotherhood and that everywhere throughout the world Scouts are following this method of extending greetings as evidence of their interest in Scouts in all parts of the world.

So the short answer is: Because that’s how Scouts from other countries do it, and BSA members are members of World Scouting.

The long answer?

There are two explanations

It’s the hand nearest to your heart. That’s the explanation offered in the latest version of the Boy Scout Handbook. On page 19 of the 13th edition, you’ll find these three sentences:

“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. Because only Scouts and Scouters know the Scout handshake, use the regular right-handed handshake when greeting people outside of Scouting.”

It comes from Ashanti warriors Baden-Powell met in West Africa. The May-June 1973 issue of Scouting magazine gives this anecdote:

“The left handshake comes to us from the Ashanti warriors whom Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, knew over 70 years ago in West Africa. He saluted them with his right hand, but the Ashanti chiefs offered their left hands and said, ‘In our land only the bravest of the brave shake hands with the left hand, because to do so we must drop our shields and our protection.’

“The Ashanti knew knew of Baden-Powell’s bravery for they had fought against him and with him, and were proud to offer him the left hand of bravery.

“When you use the Scout salute or handshake, remember that they are signs of respect and courage.”