Campaign Promotes Banning of the Handshake

A new Web site, www.stophandshaking.com, is capitalizing on the cold and flu season -- and on fears of swine flu, in particular -- to muster grassroots support for getting rid of the common practice of handshaking. The site, and the campaign surrounding it, encourages those in the workplace, "where professionals often interface with hundreds of colleagues, clients, and customers each week," to abandon the custom.

"Whether you simply don't like to shake hands, or you're a professional who's just getting back to work after having survived a layoff and can't afford to get sick, now is the perfect time for us all to ban together and 'just say no' to handshaking," says Jalanda James, the Web site's launcher, blogger, and primary contact.

The site includes tips on alternatives to handshaking and articles such as "History of the Handshake," "Famous People Who Don't Shake Hands," and "How Many Men Wash Their Hands After Using Toilet." The site also sells lapel pins designed by James to help promote the campaign and make declining a handshake less awkward for those who choose to do so. James says the pins -- one bearing a graphic with the slogan "No Offense. It Just Makes Sense." and the other with the graphic only -- are designed to give the wearer a "pass" on handshaking while reducing the awkwardness of the encounter. James says she's spent six years trying "a variety of methods and alternatives to handshakes" such as doing fist bumps and saying she has a cold just to avoid actually clasping another's hands, which the Web site points out front and center as the transmission source for 80 percent of all infections.

"In the past when I've declined handshakes, I've had to face unavoidable awkwardness, and many times I’ve unintentionally offended the other party," James says. "I think this is largely the reason why the tradition of handshaking has continued, because we've failed to find a way to get past the social discomfort that it sometimes creates. I think the pins will be a great solution for people who have become increasingly concerned about their health, but don’t want to alienate friends, family, colleagues or customers."

James adds she realizes the "shake or not to shake" debate is nothing new and that many medical professionals argue that common precautions such as frequent hand washing will safeguard hand shakers from sickness; she contends, however, that "many people aren't willing to take that risk, especially professionals who are rebounding from the recession and can't afford to get sick." She says the new site supports professionals in favor of banning the handshake in the workplace and others who are generally averse to the practice of handshaking.

James also has an answer for those who argue that the handshake is key to assessing character and expressing genuine communication in an era where technology has largely replaced the need for face-to-face communication.

"There are a lot of people who really don’t want to do away with the handshake because we already spend so much time interacting through our mobile devices and computers, which can be very impersonal," James says. "But looking at the bigger picture, I'd much rather a computer virus over the H1N1 virus, and I think most people feel the same way."

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