The State of Embrace.

I want to bring up something that occurred repeatedly for me over the course of this year’s regional Burn. I’m going to attempt to shed some light on my process through these occurrences so as to hopefully open up the floor for discussion around a simple adjustment in standards.

Hugging.

I got hugged a lot this weekend. A lot of the hugs were welcome and an established part of greetings from known people whom i love, and love me. There was a percentage of hugs that were from strangers, and even a percentage from people i straight up do not care for. I was left with a myriad of emotions, a few assigned to each hug. The feelings i had post-hug ranged from radiant warmth to icy cold running up and down my spine. While the latter was a rare, more extreme situation (i’m still a little shocked, i was pretty damn sure my dislike was mutual), I want to map out for you the more neutral, but still not awesome, hug.

I’m so down to hug the people i know, like, and want to physically touch. Generally speaking, and particularly when it’s been a couple days since i’ve seen the inside of a shower, I do not want to hug a person I just met. That doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly, or cold, or unkind. It means in that moment, I haven’t decided if the person walking towards me with their arms outstretched is safe because I don’t know them. I haven’t had the opportunity to have more interaction than “hey, may i ask what your name is?” or some trivial banter upon passing each other on a path to somewhere fun. It means that when I introduced myself, my outstretched hand is indicative of the sort of physical contact that is acceptable to me in that moment. It means don’t hug me yet. Further, if I take a step or two back as you keep coming in for the embrace, I’m doing my damnedest to politely let you know I’m not into the hug that is about to happen anyways. In that split second between the realization that the hug is about to happen anyway, and it happening, I lose my voice. It’s gone. It means that once that person has wrapped their arms around me and let go, I feel let down, and give myself a bit of shame for not saying anything sooner. In short, if you hug me after i’ve done what i deem to be a polite series of preventative measures to avoid physical touch i’m not ready for, I land in a place of self-disappointment and self-deprecation.

It sucks. I’m pretty sure any stranger who hugged me actually had no intention of making it suck for me, but here we are.

I’m not suggesting everyone feels the same way I do, at all. I’m suggesting that there is importance in taking pause and think about physical touch, and the effect it has on people, which can be vastly different from one person to the next. If we want to show compassion and kindness to people we meet, we must think before we impose ourselves physically on them. I don’t think many people would be put out by a simple “hey, are you into a hug right now?” query beforehand. It takes 3 seconds to say. This particular version is 8 words, 9 syllables. That 3 seconds of your consideration could prevent a sinking feeling, doubt, or self-shame for another person. Isn’t that worth it?

I’m also suggesting that asking is a gift we can afford easily.

It allows a person to make a decision about what is okay for them in that moment, and gives them space to vocalize it. With that gift, we give people power and autonomy. This community has a potential for extreme kindness, compassion, and care. We apply that care to our environment by leaving no trace of our presence, so why can’t we apply this care to the new faces we see in social spaces? Why have i seen so many cling to the idea that without that extra step of asking, we’re upholding some sense of free love that would be so much freer if it were with consent? Treating a hug like a gift must come full circle, in that if the gift is unwanted, it is now an imposition. With an unwanted hug, something is extracted, not given.

Last I checked, one of the principles is Radical Gifting. I consider this to include the gift of space to choose for ourselves the level of physical contact we want, without judgment. That gift could elevate this community to something more inclusive, more compassionate and more kind.

Isn’t that worth it?