Why do Scouts Shake With Their Left Hand?

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Scouts around the world come together and greet each other with a left-handed handshake and a special scout sign. This formal way of greeting is listed in the girl scout guides and boy scout handbooks. Though it is a common but seemingly unusual practice, the reason why scouts shake with their left hand is not known to all. Knowing the meaning and the story behind the scout handshake and the Scouting Movement makes the practice all the more meaningful, as it resonates with the scout principles.

Why do Scouts Shake With Their Left Hand?

There are two main reasons why boy and girl scouts shake with their left hand. The more obvious reason for using your left hand is because it’s the hand that is closest to the heart. This left handshake signifies friendship and union, especially since the regular right-handed handshake is used for anyone who is not a scout.

The other reason is traced back to the founder of the scout movement, Lord Baden-Powell. The Ashanti warriors in West Africa offered to shake hands with him using their left hand as a sign of respect of bravery. The warriors use their left hand to hold their shields and offer the same hand for a handshake to signify mutual trust and bravery. The Ashanti chiefs believed that only the bravest of the brave shake with their left hand after lowering their defenses. They then offered their left hand to then-Colonel Baden-Powell, who they fought on opposing sides as well as the same side during the war.

The left-handed scout handshake should be made with a firm grip and only done when a fellow scout or guide is in uniform.

Scout Handshake Sign and Salute Meaning

Boy Scout Sign

The three-finger scout sign is another common practice by scouts that holds a lot of significance. The scout and guide sign is made by raising your right hand to shoulder height with the palm facing outwards. The index, middle, and ring fingers are raised and placed together while the thumb covers the little finger (i.e the pinkie) on the palm.

It is also called the Scout’s promise since the three fingers represent the facets of the scout’s promise – honor God and the country, help others, and obey Scout Law. The thumb covering the little finger denotes the strong protecting the weak, and the joining of the two fingers represents brotherhood among the scouts.

Cub Scouts, i.e scout organizations for young children, can also use the two-finger Scout sign with the right arm extended fully upwards and the index and middle finger making the peace sign or V. It represents the two cocked up ears on the wolf’s head.

The Scout neckerchief is very easy for anyone to tie and it also symbolizes a part of the Scout’s promise to uphold Scout beliefs.

Scout Salute

The scout sign is used when a scout recites the scout oath and law. It is also used as a means to get attention since when one scout makes the sign, the other scouts must follow suit.

The scouts also have a scout salute. This involves forming the scout sign and bringing your hand to your forehead with the palm facing down so that the index finger touches the arch of your right eyebrow or the brim of the hat. It is also called a half-salute and is used to greet other scouts as a sign of respect and token of friendship. The full salute, which is the regular salute, is used to greet scoutmasters and patrol leaders. It is also required when the national anthem is played, or at funerals.

Why Do We Shake Hands With the Right Hand?

Now that you are aware of the meaning behind shaking with the left hand, you may be wondering why the right hand is used for regular handshakes. One doesn’t shake hands with their right hand just because it is the dominant hand of the majority.

Since ancient times, handshakes have been used as a friendly and formal way of greeting. In those times people would carry their swords in case they would need them for fights. So, when they would take their hand out for shaking it was seen as a sign that they are not removing their weapon, instead they are making peace with each other. It is seen as a sign to one’s enemies that they aren’t loaded with any weapons and mean no harm to them. World leaders, yes even the left-handed ones, shake hands for the cameras to signify their good intentions while meeting.

Additionally, people usually use their left hand to clean themselves after using the toilet. This practice makes it seem more hygienic to use your right hand to shake hands.

Why Don’t You Shake With Your Left Hand?

There are a few reasons why people don’t shake with their left hand and instead use their right. The biggest reason is that it is common practice. Historically, right-handed handshakes were the most common and the practice continues to this day.

Another reason is that most people are righties pre-dominantly and they bring forward their right hands. In such a scenario, the other person bringing their left hand out would make the situation awkward since they wouldn’t really be able to shake hands properly and some people may also take that as a sign of disrespect.

The third reason can be because people believe that the right hand is more hygienic since most people use their left-hand for their self-care in the washroom. Apart from these, there are no deeper reasons as to why a left hand clasp is not preferred for shaking.

Scout Handshake, Sign and Salute

Here’s a fun fact for you. While scouts shake hands with other scouts using their left hands, and everyone else uses their right, many animals also tend to show a handedness preference for one or the other paw, flipper, or appendage.

Reference: Scouting Magazine

Featured image: User:GeorgeLouis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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