They pretended to know it all but were illiterate regarding life. (308, The Message Bible)
A couple weekends ago, I attended an arts festival with some friends. I enjoyed spending time with them, even though the festival wasn't quite as good as I thought it would be. At one point, the booths got closer together and the noise got considerably louder, both of which made one of my friends anxious. We were trying to get away from the noise when we came upon a group of young people who had a booth for "free hugs." They were blocking the road, shouting "Free Hugs!" at the top of their lungs and would step towards people, whether the person wanted them to or not. My friend did not want to hug them. To be honest, neither did I.
"No, thank you," she replied to their advances.
"Oh, come on, everyone loves hugs!" they said.
"Not right now, I don't," she countered.
"Yes, you do!" they enthused. They continued to push.
"I HAVE ANXIETY!!" she finally yelled.
"Hugging is good for anxiety!" they said, laughing.
Amazed at their lack of insight and genuine listening or caring, we rushed to the other side of the road, onto the grass as far as we could, so that we would not be forced to hug against our will.
I am not against hugging. But unlike some people, I do not feel like hugging 100% of the time, especially when I am stressed. Contrary to what those young people thought, touch is not always good for anxiety. In fact, many times it is not. When I am anxious and on the verge of a panic attack, my plan of defense is to be as alone as possible in as quiet of an area as possible. Touching may trigger tears, which I am trying to avoid when in public. In those times, it is far better for me to get to where I can be alone, take a few minutes of deep breathing and pull myself together, so that I can enjoy the rest of my day without further incident, instead of hugging someone, crying my eyes out and causing a scene. This need is not unique to me but is probably what my friend was feeling and how I know many people deal with anxiety.
I am amazed at the hugging enthusiasts' lack of boundaries. Why is it that there seems to be a lack of boundary respect in our society? If a child does not want to hug a person, I will hear otherwise progressive people force the child to experience unwanted touch.
This is rape culture.
It appears harmless, but we are a culture that has grown up knowing that our boundaries are not our own. That we should let people comfort us the way they want to comfort us and not the way we actually need. We learn to put other people's touching needs ahead of our own and over time, it becomes hard to internalize that it is our right to set sensory boundaries. If we teach children that they do not have the right to say no to a hug, then they learn that they do not have the respect to say no to sex later. Likewise, if we tell people with mental health issues that they do not have the right to say no to hugs, then they learn that they do not have the right to make their own healthcare choices. Many people at the center I work at are used to being told how to manage their lives, for they have been taught by well-meaning people in the past that they cannot adequately make decisions about their needs.
We start by respectfully listening to one another. We start by honoring one's request for more or less space, no matter how we personally feel about the activity. We start by making sure that people know that even hugging can be harassment.
Free hugs are great, but only if they come with consent.