Sunday, June 14, 2009

"To hug or not to hug," that is the question!

Yeah yeah, I know, but “to be” for some people means “to hug” and for others, “to be” means definitely, most definitely, absolutely, unequivocally, and most assuredly “Do NOT hug under any occasion!” Boy have I ever blown it…time and time and time again while travelling back in North America I have hugged when I should NOT have hugged. (And if you were the poor person on the other end of that un-wanted, un-deserved and most definitely un-desireable hug, I am soooo sorry :). You see, you can “be” all alone, but you can’t “hug” all alone, and if for you “to be” is “to hug” then your life has to be filled with warm, un-self-conscious, over-the-top and out-of-control huggers! And the problem is that when you work in different cultures and places the state of “being” changes.

Now I need to say to all you poor people who don’t hug…it’s okay…I guess. Because I know you were just not brought up that way, and it feels too close and generally just un-comfortable. I understand this and I want you to know you can likely live out a very full and happy life without hugging a bunch of other people. So please understand me, as I share the rest of my thoughts, because I really don’t mean to offend anyone. We huggers are too nice to want to offend.

But a couple things that relate to this topic of hugging may be worth mentioning, from my humble point of view:

The first is that sometimes hugging is perceived as some dirty old man (or needy woman) trying to get a little too close. And you know what, maybe that happens sometimes. Kind of like when some crazy religious types hijack a few planes and fly them into the twin towers. Yes it happens and it is terrible and sad and many other things I don’t have time to go on about, but it is NOT the norm. As we went through security to fly out of the Edmonton airport this last week, I waited as Lynn, yet again, had her bag ripped apart to find a small blunt pair of foldable scissors that one would have a hard time using to kill a mouse, never mind hijacking a plane. While her bag was being disassembled and re-assembled, I watched a little old lady being “strip” searched and the longer I watched the lady security agent patting her down in every place imaginable in the middle of a busy security area and in plain view of everyone else, the angrier I became. A few crazies have hijacked our way of life and now we see little old ladies and foldable scissors as serious threats to our world. What have we become?! Someone once said, “to the pure everything is pure, but to the impure, even pure things are impure.” Likely not everyone who reads this will agree with me, and I understand we live in a messed up world, but what I am actually talking about here is HUGGING!

Lynn and I have had the privilege of visiting Brazil annually over the past three years as part of our mission responsibilities. And it never ceases to amaze me at how quickly the hugging starts. And they don’t care who you are or whether you want to be hugged. You get hugged, and kissed and touched and warmly welcomed into their world. Amazing…even as I write the word, “touched,” I realize many will recoil at that word. For those who may have had a horrible experience growing up, I am so sorry, but there is such a thing as healthy normal touching. And hugging is one of those forms of healthy touching. Shaking one’s hand is also touching, and sometimes just touching another person’s hand, arm, shoulder or patting someone on the back can be another form of healthy touching. I am not writing a manual here on “healthy touching”, so let me move on. The reality is that after being in Brazil for a short while, the social warmth is something that just envelops me…the physical contact somehow just flows into a sense of well-being. I can’t really explain it in words. I just know that I feel accepted and appreciated and it is pretty easy to get used to.

But the stark contrast of leaving the warm embrace of Brazil and hitting the cold social blast of North America is quite sobering. Please know I love all of you gracious, generous, loving North Americans, but understand that sometimes it is hard to know, in our cultural diversity, how to say hi and bye. And it is never my intention to be cold to you or to offend you, I honestly just don’t know WHAT to do, so IF you want a hug, please feel free to hug me and if you would rather NOT be hugged, when you see me coming, just stick out your hand well in advance and I will do my best to give it the warmest shake I know how to, and beyond that I will let you “be”.