We need a hugging revolution

Have you hugged anyone lately?

Well, I did. (Technically, I swaddled them in a blanket that I won for fundraising in marching band, but it’s the same concept.) The 2012 marching band convened for the last time as a group at our end-of-season banquet on Friday. And I’ve never felt more loved.

I hugged more people in the span of one hour than I’ve hugged in the past two months combined. It’s interesting because weeks ago I went through a bout of the blues, thinking the marching band was more cliquey than I first imagined – and it truly is – and now I’m spouting that I hugged probably half the band like we we’ve been buddies this whole time. I think in the pure musical setting of band – not throwing parties and visiting each other outside of band – we are the family I always imagined we were. (So my first impression wasn’t totally off; just too broad.) Looking at the jazz group, or symphonic band group, we are the closest-knit group of the entire band program. Jazz is sort of close, and symphonic band isn’t really knitted together in any way at all.

But all this hugging got me thinking about just that – hugging.

There are more times than I have fingers that I can remember rolling my eyes at students in my school hugging each other. I categorized those hugs into two groups:

  1. The Lame Hug. It was platonic, quick, and almost meaningless. It was probably obligatory for that friend group, if you know what I mean. It just looked fake.
  2. The Private Hug. Far too romantic for my tastes. It was awkward to just be in the vicinity of these people. One wanted to shout, “Get a room!” This one lasted far too long.

I have nothing against hugging, though. Only those ridiculous ones. (There is never an occasion to use the Lame Hug, and the only occasion to use the Private Hug is in private or if you are saying goodbye to a lover for an extended period of time. NOT in school. Good Lord.) In fact, I actually quite like hugging. I enjoy that it communicates “I love you” or “You’re a great friend!” or “Feel better” or “I’ll miss you” or “I’ve missed you!” etc. with just a few seconds of embrace. I am not good with meaningful words such as these, so the ability to say them without having to stumble over words is an excellent release.

I read somewhere and I regret that I can’t remember where, that when you pet an animal, you are transferring energy from yourself to him or her. If you think about it, that makes sense. What is your reason for petting the animal? Because it’s your pet and you love him or her; because you think it’s really cute and just have to give it a scratch; because she’s been following you around and rubbing against your legs for a while, so you feel obligated? All of these are positive reasons and since it’s widely known that animals are sensitive to emotions and energies, the animal absorbs these. (If you think about it, it makes sense then why neglected or abused animals are so messed up – the touch they got was completely negative. And coddled animals are usually incapable and confused because they got used to superfluous, meaningless touch.) Wouldn’t it make sense if humans were the same way? (Not with petting, but with touch in general.)

I turned to the New York Times for some backing information. In “Hugging Called an Aid in Heart-Lung Failure,” it was proven that hugging – which is applying pressure to the chest region – actually helps create circulation in heart-lung failure patients. Hugging is healing for those who are ill, so what does that mean for those that are healthy? I know that when I give a good “tight hug, a ‘Goodby, I’m going off to war’ type of hug,” I feel flushed, and elated, and can’t help smiling. It makes me feel physically and emotionally good. I wouldn’t be surprised if my circulation increased because at the banquet, I actually felt my energy level rising the later it got into the night. The hugging was energizing. In fact, I was still elated yesterday, a day after the affair.

As I said before, hugging says what I feel sort of uncomfortable putting into words. I felt obligated to hug people that I felt the most gratitude and joy towards. Nicholas Bakalar, in his NYTimes article “Five-Second Touch Can Convey Specific Emotions, Study Finds,” reports that volunteers in a study who were blindfolded and unaware of the gender of the person touching them correctly understood an intended emotion aimed to be communicated through touch 50-78% of the time. All touches, around five seconds each, tried to communicate “anger, fear, happiness, sadness, disgust, love, gratitude or sympathy.” There were specific results for male and female “touchers” but just the range of accuracy – the least successful guesser was at least 50% correct – is an astounding, but unsurprising idea. I think people underestimate or forget the range of human communication. Before there was language, all we had was nonverbal communication, and judging by the fact that humans are not extinct, I’d say we’ve been pretty successful thus far in our communication.

Even in the English language, though, we have little cliches that suggest the importance of touch: “Get in touch with someone,” “adding a ___ touch to something,” “getting out of touch,” and “staying in touch.” Touch for us conjures a sort of connection. When we say we’d like to “stay in touch,” we mean we want to stay connected or continue communicating with someone. When we add a “personal touch” to something, we are, in effect, saying we’ve marked something with evidence of our interaction with it. Obviously, subconsciously, we value touch, and see it as a way of connecting with something or someone.

Think about our current technology. Almost every portable device, whether mobile, cellular, or entertainment-based, is a touch screen. It’s a closer connection to our device. It is specifically developed to register just human fingers’ directions. (However, as we all know, pockets can mimic fingers, somehow, and produce “butt-dials,” and the like. Isn’t that like physical, human touch, too? If we use it without thinking, it might communicate something we didn’t mean?)

I also implore you to think about our own human babies. Just like animals, babies need touch. Babies need to be held, hugged, rocked, etc. But too much touch is “coddling,” and leads to a dependency that does not bode well in society, as well as for whoever delivered the coddling. Not enough touch is coined as “neglect” and also doesn’t help the baby at all. From the start of our lives, we learn and grow from touch.

So, touch is important. But why do I reserve my hugs for special occasions? Why does the rest of the band reserve these hugs for special occasions? Why are most hugs I see “Lame Hugs” or “Private Hugs”? What happened to the “Good Squeeze”?

One theory I developed – that has been completely used before, but I discovered it today-ish – is that we are a bit afraid of touch. Of hugs. Of affection.

You see, affection does not = romance. Affection, by dictionary definition, means:

  • fond attachment, devotion, or love: the affection of a parent for an only child. (dictionary.com)
  • 1: a moderate feeling or emotion
  • 2: tender attachment : fondness <she had a deep affection for her parents> (merriam-webster.com)
  • A gentle feeling of fondness or liking (google.com)

(Interestingly enough, in medical terms, an “affection” is the condition of having a disease.)

I think people link “love” automatically to romance, and therefore see any expression of love an uncomfortable sight or situation. Another reason could be that, in true American fashion, we have, as a culture, become afraid of child or sexual abuse, and therefore see touch as a warning sign. Plus, since there will always be parents of any age kid in school that are concerned the school isn’t safe, the school authority will just prevent any sort of blow-up by preventing touch from ever happening.

In “For Teenagers, Hello Means ‘How About a Hug?'” Sarah Kershaw describes a school in which hugging is mainstream – it’s not cool to high-five or shake hands, students just hug everyone. Originally, I cheered for this school, thinking, “Spread the love!” But as I neared the end of the article, I found that some kids thought this: “If somebody were to not hug someone, to never hug anybody, people might be just a little wary of them and think they are weird or peculiar.” That school has put a new meaning to hug – meaningless, because it’s socially required as a greeting. Is their hugging as meaningful as the hugging I’ve been describing?

I am worried that, just as the internet has cheapened the meaning of “friend” and “chat,” this excess hugging will cheapen the communication that goes on during an embrace. Hugging is my way of communicating the “sappier” emotions; how will I get my point across if hugging becomes “mainstream”?

Hugging needs a revolution. It needs to carry its rightful amount of meaning – not too much, not too little. To do so, we must strip “love” and “affection” of their romantic implications, and then apply them to hugging. Since we know that touch is a relevant and vital form of human communication, we cannot let this become an uncomfortable, private practice that is not allowed in public places. At the same time, though, hugging cannot turn into another cliche ritual of young people, absent of the “Good Squeeze.” It needs to retain enough meaningfulness that when one hugs another, it still means “You’re neat and you mean a lot to me!” every time a hug is administered and it should be okay to hug in public and outside of special occasions such as greetings, farewells, illnesses, and certain celebrations.

Finally, though, hugging, itself, is a complicated medium. While I was hugged many times over in a meaningful way at the marching band banquet, I got one – ONE – “Good Squeeze.” And I can remember it clearly. I can remember most of my Good Squeezes that I’ve gotten in the past year, because they really mean something to me. I can remember everyone who I hugged at the banquet, but I can’t really recall the quality of the hug. I remember what happened before and after the hug, but during, I can’t remember whether I hugged their neck or waist, or if it was one of those under-over maneuvers, or if they just rested their arms on me or really squeezed.

The weird part is the Good Squeeze came from a guy whose girlfriend was standing right there. I have to say, it was a hearty hug, but I was confused as to what to do, so I ended it early as to not arouse suspicion – you know what I mean. I can honestly say there was nothing romantic or suggestive about it; if we had been alone, it would not have meant, “OoOo, he has a thing for me,” or anything as scandalous as that. It was a strong, friendly hug that said, “You’re neat!” But I felt weird, wondering if only “You’re neat!” would have been communicated to those standing by.

That’s what I’m talking about.

How can hugging be scandalous? Between two huggers, they can discern what “kind” of hug is being given – if it were a romantic hug, I can assure you: I would know it. But since hugging is sort of intimate, standers- and passers-by might get a different impression of a hug lasting 2+ seconds between a girl and a boy. I think that’s what frightens people of all ages about hugging. The what-could-it-mean aspect. I ask the Universe, “How could we take hugging from being somehow controversial or meaningless, to something for everyone?” I have yet to get an answer, but for now, I’ll just do for others what I did for my percussion director: at the end of my awkward “thank you for teaching me how to play mallets,” I spread my arms wide and asked, “Hug?” He smiled genuinely, and said, “Sure!” That probably meant more than my whole verbal “thank you.”



2 thoughts on “We need a hugging revolution

  1. Your style of writing is almost like mine FOR EXAMPLE: at the beginning of the blog you wrote “One theory I developed – that has been completely used before, but I discovered it today-ish – is that we are a bit afraid of touch. Of hugs. Of affection”. (I developed theories too, and i like to developed them), and at the end of the blog you wrote “I think that’s what frightens people of all ages about hugging. The what-could-it-mean aspect”.
    I sometimes when i write, I do this too, first think “something” about a thing, and then think another “something” about the same thing, but believe in both.

    • It’s really interesting to have an outside perspective on my writing style! I think we both discover things through our writing; it’s sort of like a long, organized train of thought! At the end of the writing, we figured something out. Thanks for all your comments, Valerie!

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