Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Etiquette of Hugging

I'd been holding off on this one, as I wanted to cogitate a bit on it. Specifically, I wanted to be darned sure I wasn't addressing it at any specific person or group thereof - so, cogitation.

Today, however, I'm sufficiently irritated with other matters that I'm fairly certain that any thing that slops over on a particular individual simply means that they have gotten lucky - not that any particular malice is directed in a particular direction.

That said, not everyone is comfortable being hugged - and the level of discomfort and the enthusiasm of the reaction is highly variable. Some of us were not raised in a "hugging culture," some are victims of rape or other abuse, others are simply shy (hugging only those that are well known), others of us that "carry heat" are deeply discomfitted by letting unknowns or barely-knowns within grabbing distance of the sidearm du jour, and yet others that carry concealed are not up for the potential sudden reveal of "what's that lumpy hard thing on your waist?"

All of the above are valid as is a simple preference that folks keep their paws to themselves barring an invitation to the contrary.

Yet there exist the socially awkward, the socially unskilled and the just plain oblivious who haven't figured out that not only is not everyone up for a hug from random friends (or strangers, or even *anyone*) and that the response may range from stiffening by the unwilling huggee to a hospital visit for the inappropriate hugger.

This little post is my noble effort to keep both the allegorical and the literal bloodshed down to a minimum by offering a few social rules that will serve all categories of the confused and oblivious well.

1) Don't assume other folks are comfortable being touched, let alone hugged.

2) Until you know other folks fairly well, ask before hugging. Wait for an outstretched hand (or extend your hand for a handshake w/o expectation that it'll be accepted).

3) Give folks their space. Pay attention...if somebody *looks* uncomfortable as you close distance with them, they probably are uncomfortable. The reason isn't really relevant - respect requires that if you can detect it, you should honor their comfort level to the extent practical.

These rules are important. In most jurisdictions simple unwanted touching is chargeable as simple assault. More, there are a lot of folks out there who through experience and training are programmed to respond to unwanted touching (see: "uninvited hugs") rather enthusiastically - ranging from full-out vicious high queen on a mission to inflict maximum verbal damage to repetitive bouncing off payment until threat reduction is assured.

Following the simple rules above is at least as much for the good of the person who wants to give the gift of physical social contact as it is for the comfort of the comfort of the potential recipient. A good side note is to develop the art of backing away in a slow and non-threatening fashion should you have misread a situation - apologizing profusely helps, but "backing away" is really the key skill.

That said, back to dealing with the Dragons Du Jour.

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