Thursday, October 17, 2013

Do You Hug With Respect?

Do You Hug With Respect?

I have been flabbergasted at how many times I have read lately that everybody wants and needs hugs, and that hugs are necessary for our daily maintenance. Some of these posts include how many hugs one must receive in order to be healthy and that the length of a hug should last for 20 seconds, so that you’re body can produce oxytocin and, as a result, blossom in rich abundance of good feelings. What?

To say that everyone needs a prescribed amount of hugs for a specific amount of time is pretty much like saying, “I will buy everyone a plastic, long-stem, pink rose for Christmas because I liked it when someone gave me a plastic pink rose, or I have read on many posts that everyone likes plastic pink roses.” I think of a hug as a more precious gift; perhaps, even as an extension of my soul. Hugs themselves lose their meaning when we attach such a silly prescription of one size fits all, to be engaged in 8 times per day.

I, therefore, would like to submit that everybody desires and needs respect. If you know someone values hugs and that hugs help to recharge their inner being, go ahead and give that person a hug. If you know that someone is not a touchy-feely person and would rather receive a handshake or even a smile and a nod, do not hug that person. You are not their personal doctor or therapist, and who gave you the right to decide that everyone wants the huggy-type of attention, just because someone said it’s what everybody needs or because you like it yourself.

I personally feel like my space is being invaded if I receive unprecedented or unwelcome physical contact. I don’t think that I necessarily hate hugs, but I think hugs mean more than, “Oh, you’re here and so am I, so let’s hug.” For me to freely receive or give hugs, certain conditions must be met. Namely, I need to feel a spiritual connection with the person I am hugging; and, if it’s a person outside of my family, I usually have not seen that person for an extended period of time; or, I see a person who is in great spiritual need, and I feel drawn to offer help to them; and a hug becomes, in part, a gift from my soul; in which case, it is like an assurance that I am available to help. In much the same way as a handshake can convey the meaning of a contract or a social bond, a hug can relay the message of commitment to extend caring and friendship.

Respect is so lacking in society. In my own home, our family rules revolved around the need to be respectful. I soon found that whenever there was misbehavior of any kind, the real offense came from a lack of respect. That certainly would often be because the children were young, and the parents were also young, and there was both lack of understanding and some selfishness involved. It is no wonder that the two greatest commandments are to “Love the Lord” and to “Love your Neighbor as Yourself.” As we learn to remember the Lord first off, and develop a love for Him, because of all the love He’s given us and the great and many blessings we receive from Him every day; it helps us to learn, in turn, to love ourselves as His children and to love our fellowmen, who are also His children and our brothers and sisters.

Our family rules consisted of having respect for God, having respect for parents, having respect for others, having respect for self, and having respect for property. Knowing that one of the greatest ways to show love is by being vigilant in showing respect, these rules seemed like the best way to teach our children. They certainly worked better than punishment for behaviors we didn’t like; these rules taught expectations for appropriate behavior. More than anything, these rules taught our children that everyone is valuable and worthy of respect and that their efforts in work and production were worthy of respect, and that rights of ownership also deserved respect. These rules should have been developed sooner and adhered to more fully, but I know that they were valuable for our family.

I am thankful that I had really great interactive, loving, lively children. But, even so, each one was different and had different needs. To think of parenting each child exactly the same would not have been respectful. To demand that each child have the same exact social behavior, meaning that each would have to value togetherness time and down time to the same degree would be unfair. I’m certain that there are things that we could have done better in some situations. But children, like the rest of the population come with a variety of characteristics on an every changing continuum. To demand an autistic child, for example, to interact in a noisy, highly active and unorganized social setting would not only be disrespectful; it would be harmful. I think for the most part parents try to learn about their children’s natures and nurture them according to what they deem is best for them.

We really should extend that same courtesy to each other. It’s pretty easy to read body language if we pay attention and if we desire to know the wants and needs of others so that we can treat them with respect. Hugging without respect is really a self-fulfilling activity at best; at worst, it is a weapon. Human contact should mean more than imposing ourselves on one another. Truly, a genuine hug, where the giver is also a recipient, and the recipient is also a giver, can produce oxytocin and endorphins that stimulate well-being; but an unwanted hug can have the opposite effect, causing a rise in anxiety, the production of cortisol, and a breach in trust that can take a long time to regain. I know that from personal experience.

At the same time, I try to not have the common reactions, which I am wont to have, when I know that others are not meaning to be disrespectful, but are just acting according to their own make-up, personality, and cultural and social upbringing. Even though I grew up in a home with two parents both reared in Europe, who were not extremely demonstrative in hugging and physical contact, I have a sister who has always been extremely huggy. In part, we are a product of our social and cultural upbringing; but, when it comes to physical contact, some of us just like it, or need it, more than others of us do. It doesn’t mean that some of us are flawed and some of us our healthy. It just means that we are diverse in our wants and our needs, and in order to be respectful of that, we need to learn a bit about each other before we start hugging everyone. So I hope that next time you or I hug someone else, we are not only thinking of showing affection, but of extending respect. I think that all of us want, need, and deserve more respect.

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