>Don’t Be Surprised if I Offer You My Left Hand


General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! – Ronald Reagan.

I’ve talked a lot lately about Peace and Justice and how inseparable they are. Remember the thesis, Peace without Justice is Oppression.

So if the path to true peace is a path toward justice where do we begin? If I’m going to develop my idea of peace and justice much further I need a new thesis statement. I’ve established that lasting peace requires justice but what then is justice?

Justice is Reconciliation and the forging of a Third Way.

According to Wikipedia the word Reconciliation literally means “to meet again”. In the early 90s, as decades long oppressive regimes came to an end in places like the Soviet Union and South Africa governments began launching something called “truth and reconciliation commissions”. The purpose of these commissions was to bring different groups together, to open dialogue and start to remove divisions.

We all know the story of South Africa. After years of immense pressure from the international community the white minority government finally allowed blacks to vote in multi-party elections. The result was the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. Mr. Mandela could have easily turned around and punished his former rulers in the white elite, indeed a large portion of the population wanted him to do just that, but instead he opted to take the much harder and ultimately more just and peaceful third way to reconciliation. Today South Africa is the most politically and economically stable country in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is much easier to build walls and concentrate on maintaining security within an easily defined area. Walls divide. Walls hold people in and stifle expansion as much as they keep people out. Walls are an obvious marker of the “us” on the inside and the “them” on the outside. Reconciliation on the other hand requires us to become vulnerable. In order to “meet again” we have to tear down the wall.

On June 12, 1987 United States President Ronald Reagan delivered the now famous “Tear Down this Wall” speech while standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate. He called on the Soviet Union to allow the free flow of people, goods and ideas that would promote liberalization and peace. Within 3 years of that day the Berlin Wall was down and Germany was officially reunified. The Berlin Wall never would have come down if people on both sides hadn’t been willing to become vulnerable and forge a new path. Removing walls is tricky and often dangerous work. It’s not enough to lay down your arms. Reconciliation, if it is to be a removal of walls, requires us to let down our defenses.

One last example comes to mind. I was a Boy Scout. One of the first things I learned was that scouts great each other with a left-handed handshake. By way of explanation I was told that Roman soldiers carried their sword in their right hand and their shield in their left. The traditional offer of your right hand is a sign of peace showing that you are un-armed; indeed that’s where we get the concept of laying down arms. But Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts took the concept one step further by instead offering his left hand as a sign that he had let down his defenses.

To this day I will often greet new people with a left-handed handshake. In the awkward moment that follows I have an opportunity to tell people a bit about my world-view, it’s been the start of some very interesting conversations. So if we ever get a chance to meet face to face don’t be surprised if drop my shield and offer you my left hand….

A word of caution, if you want to try this, I learned the hard way that certain cultures consider the offer of a left hand extremely insulting because they have traditionally used it to clean themselves after – ahem – “doing their business”. I don’t need to tell you how VERY awkward that conversation was but we both learned something that day and eventually had a good laugh.


  1. >As a practitioner of Aikido of some years I have been trying to find that left hand shake of yours for myself. In so many conflicts we find that people would say "I will stop if he stops", to which the other replies the exact same thing. This ofcourse leads nowhere and both parties stands at the ready. But it is a hard thing backing down both as a person, as a group and as a nation. Mandela taught us much in that way.I like your pen and your thoughtsBe seing youMagnus

  2. Lauren Sheil says:

    >It's not a question of backing down, if you approach everything without your defences up in the first place there's nothing to back down from.

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