What’s Wrong with a Handshake?

A recent news headline read something like, “Obama’s handshake with Chavez draws criticism.” My immediate reaction: “Oh, please.” Let me expand….

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama drew fire for saying he would sit down with the leaders of “enemy” nations and talk to them without preconditions. As for me, I welcomed the change in attitude toward the rest of the world, even those with whom we disagree strongly, because I believe that talking and listening to other people regardless of their views increases understanding, and understanding may well reduce conflict and perhaps even prevent war.

Since President Obama took office, I have been pleased with his efforts to engage the rest of the world, including such countries as Iran and Cuba and leaders like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. So I am more than a little put off by those who seem to think that a simple handshake and exchange of greetings with a so-called enemy will endanger our security as a nation.

Whatever happened to common courtesy, not to mention taking the moral high ground? And what about the golden rule of treating people as we would like them to treat us?  Just because I talk to someone or shake his or her hand or engage in conversation doesn’t mean I agree with or condone anything that person does or says. And it doesn’t mean the other person is going to assume I agree and take advantage of that to do me harm. It simply means I’m willing to listen and I care about the person as another human being worthy of respectful treatment. It gives me a foundation on which to build a relationship that allows me to talk openly and honestly about our points of disagreement, and it diminishes the power of that person over me.

In general, it seems to me that civil dialogue is likely to get us a lot further on the path to the kind of understanding that relieves tension and prevents violence than refusing to talk—or shake a hand. So, President Obama, keep talking, and keep shaking hands!

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