Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Are We Stealing the Hug Out of Hug?

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, College Edition, has defined the word hug as:  1) to clasp tightly in the arms; esp. with affection; embrace.  2) to cling firmly or fondly to; cherish: to hug an opinion.  3) to keep close to: to hug the shore.  4) to cling together; lie close.  5) a tight clasp with the arms; embrace. 


Blanche Asphall with Shemar Moore (actor)

According to its definition, a hug can be used in many different contexts.  More importantly, hug is a potent form of nonverbal communication that is used when greeting each other.  Sometimes it is exercised as a touch and go, sometimes it is prolonged, sometimes it is unbearably crushing, and sometimes it is an endless display of emotion.  Of course there are other forms of nonverbal communication that are used to greet each other which remain whimsical, bumptious and bold.  For example, sometimes the force from a slap on the back has the receiver rubbing the spot in anguish or struggling to control steadiness much to the amusement of the giver and those present.  A firm handshake sometimes leaves a crippling effect for a moment.  The methodical display of the high-five, low-five and the fist bump truly warrants tryouts at the Olympics.  Even then none of these listed forms of nonverbal communication can compare to the hug.  

To hug in my upbringing meant hugging my parents or my parents hugging me.  It was a nonverbal communication for those in need of comfort, or for the people who are involved in an intimate relationship.  Back then, as a child, to see two people cling to each other in a tight embrace was frightening.  I would quickly look away because only grownups who were in love hugged in that manner.  Yes, there were times when children hugged each other but it was with one hand around each other’s neck, standing side by side.  

High Five

Low Five

There is no doubt in my mind that hugs have cultural connotations.  I was rather taken aback the first time I arrived in North America and saw people greeting each other with a hug.  Whoa! I said in my mind.  Why do they have to greet with a hug?  Some hardly knew each other yet they throw their arms around each other’s neck and lock their bodies tight.  I quickly decided that I was not going to join the posse of huggers.  Hence on each account when greeting someone, I discharge a quick smile and a hello; and if I had no time to dodge a hug, I would remain stiff as a starched crinoline in that hugger's arm.  The response was usually viewed as impolite and rude whereas that was a natural course for me.   To add fuel to the fire I would safeguard my lower body from making contact with the lower body of the hugger. 

After a couple years I understood that the North American challenge was on with hugging.  Therefore, it didn’t seem appropriate to continue embracing my Jamaican isms and schisms.  If hugging was a cultural gesture then by all means I had to get in the swing of things so to speak.  According to the old saying, When in Rome do as the Romans do.  Furthermore, I was concerned that I would be seen as a misfit in society if I did not adapt to this form of social greeting.  I started out with fenkeh-fenkeh (feeble) hugs here and there and then with much practice, I began hugging Tom, Dick, and Harry. To make things seem rather super-duper, I would add a swift kiss on the cheek of the receiver or do cheek to cheek and then let go of each other.  To this day, I even harbor guilt when I do not greet people with a hug. 

Inasmuch as a hug can be calculated as a suggestive behavior, I find that a good, strong hug is just as medicinal as laughter.  It heals the soul and mind.  It extracts all the cares and worry for the quick moment I remain shielded by the giver.   Sometimes a hug is like a bank.  It deposits, withdraws and transfers.  For example in the same manner the engaging parties can enjoy hugging, it is just as easy to walk away with something personal: the lingering odor of tobacco, cigarette, cologne, perfume and perspiration.  A hug can bring out the ferociousness in a person if an attempt is made to hug someone who does not embrace this nonverbal communication.  Rejecting a hug is just as dangerous.  An unauthorized hug at a party is the recipe for a brawl.  It is considered disrespectful when a male patron solicits a waltz, noted as a hug, from a female in the presence of her male company.  A hug can be spontaneous.  In some situations the source will be considered mediocre but by then the receiver will be too frightened to take offence.  A hug can also make a dream come true.  I recall having reached out to hug someone as I greeted him.  He quickly received me, arrested me in his arms, and then whispered, “Gal yuh noh how long mi waan hug yuh up?  Thank God fi America, because if it was Jamaica mi couldn’t get dis ya opportunity. Yuh feel suh gud in a mi arms.”  The torturous embrace, luckily for me, was broken when I reacted with a raucous laugh.  

So far, much has been said about hugs.  Besides the spontaneity of them, should an informed decision be made before engaging in a hug?  There are a few questions to consider.   Should I engage in hug because it seems right?  Should I engage in a hug because it embraces culture?  Should I engage in a hug because it appears to be a good style?  Should I engage in a hug because it is comforting?  Should I engage in a hug because my peers do?  Should I engage in a hug because it is romantic?  Should I engage in a hug because it signifies caring?  The judgment call is already amusing.

Tah-tah!  Position one’s self with good intentions. 

Grace Dunkley-Asphall, Copyright © 2014

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