Free Hugs?

Have you heard of the free hugs campaign?  I had forgotten about it.  A couple years ago it first came to my attention as a popular video through facebook.  It appealed to me right away, and today I was trying to figure out why.  So, was it the idea of free hugs, or the story line surrounding the campaign, or the soundtrack provided by the band Sick Puppies?  Was it a combination of all three?  I’m not sure.  See it for yourself here…

The concept of Free Hugs is unusual, especially to me.  I’ve never been a natural hugger.  Everyone knows, has met, or dreads meeting those natural huggers.  They’re just so expressive, sometimes excessively, with their hugs.  A friend and coworker of mine, Su, is a hugger… not necessarily a comfortable thing while working amidst burly men.  Over time, I came to really appreciate Su’s friendship and his friendly hugs.  Conversely, I’ve also worked with people who are extremely uncomfortable with affection–I never figured out if it was their fear of  affection or pure disdain for physical touch.

Then there’s that element of coed hugging.  I’m okay hugging my Mom, my Aunts, my daughter, extended family members and little old ladies, but there’s always an element of discomfort when I hug women.  Why?  I’m not sure, but it might have something to do with squishing body parts, theirs, not mine.

When confronted with hugging, frequently I have memory flashbacks to my swimming instructor coarse where it was emphasized that you never initiate a hug with a child.  It was okay if the child initiated affection, but an instructor was never to encourage it–for obvious reasons.  For me, it just carried over towards adults too.  You’ll rarely find me initiating a hug outside of family members.  Fear, not my disinterest nor dislike, holds me back.

Was I a handsomer man, would I be more comfortable initiating hugs?  Perhaps.  Personal observations lead me to believe that hugs (and other activities in general) from society’s beautiful people are more often deemed acceptable.  Or maybe beautiful people just receive a greater measure of grace when they cross uncertain lines, like hugging.   And for me, I’m naturally skeptical about motives and intentions when a pretty woman offers me unexpected affection.  I don’t believe my body language emits signals encouraging people to hug me.

And maybe in society’s pursuit of safety for all, in an effort to protect everyone possible, hugs have become a social taboo.  Physical affection is often the victim of suspicion.  For that reason, I respect those affectionate rebels that push past the unwritten rules that forbid hugging.  With modest envy, I admire those people for just being themselves and ignoring perceived propperness.

So what motivates those people to hold up signs advertising Free Hugs?  In my office, I have the privilege of working with a young lady, Nicole, who worked in Sydney in or about the time of all this “free hugging.”   I was curious to gain her perspective.  She knew about the free hugs thing, had seen the people holding up the signs, but didn’t know it as a formal campaign.  Her impression was that the Asian tourists loved that kind of thing, almost like a novelty, and the people giving the hugs looked like they were homeless street people  (does the fellow in the video look homeless to you?  To me his burgundy jacket seemed more artsy than homeless.  Then again, most artist are financially poor, right?).  Nicole didn’t understand why people would offer free hugs.  Needless to say, neither Nicole, nor I offered each other any free hugs.  Maybe it would be deemed “office inappropriate.”

Free Hugs.  Is it a public statement about society’s discomfort with public affection?  Or are these huggers actually reaching out to a world of infrequently touched people who have too often been famished from a good squeeze?  Would I feel comfortable offer my affection to a complete stranger?  Would it be easier than offering it to someone I know?  It would seem not, but having done just that, would I be changed in my efforts to demonstrate kindness, or even love, to someone in a way I seldom would?  It might, it might even be life changing.

The video’s storyline is definitely about the campaign being the underdog, having triumphed in the end.  What’s not to like about that?

And the Sick Puppies song that servers as a sound track? Well, I’m a sucker for strumming guitars and a certain passion expressed in music.  The lyrics are interesting at best, but the idea conveyed about acceptance, I think everyone would appreciate a bit more acceptance.

When I first saw this video, youtube indicated the video had been viewed about 500,000 times (if memory serves me correct).  Today, it has been watched nearly 65 million times.  In some way, different or similar to my own perceptions, the Free Hugs Campaign video has peaked viewer interest over the years, and in the least, it resonates with people at some level.