Skirting the Issue - Give us a hug, Norman

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In the pages of this paper on Tuesday my fellow columnist Norman Hamill questioned the current popularity of hugging - highlighted to him in recent days by the exuberance of young people passing their exams and launching themselves into each other’s arms as a form of congratulations.

Hugging, Mr Hamill said “is getting out of hand”, stating that “now even strangers have taken to reaching for each other”. “Isn’t there something to be said for inhibitions?” he asked making the point that in days gone by a hug was reserved simply for someone you liked a lot or for the expression of “deeply sincere emotional empathy”.

I’ll put my hand up and admit I’m a hugger. Not a random see-you-in-the-street-and-grab-you hugger but, it has to be said I find little in life as comforting or life affirming as a nice big hug.

I hug my friends, my family and have, on occasion, while wearing my journalist cap hugged the subject of an interview where I have felt it was warranted and perhaps they may have needed that little bit of comfort after telling their stories.

There is no better feeling in my book than the moment I walk through the door at the end of the day and am greeted by the clatter of tiny feet battering down the hall as my daughter throws herself at me and wraps her tiny body around me, embracing me in the biggest of hugs. (The boy does hug me as well - just not always with the same enthusiasm given that he is seven and trying to act cool most of the time).

Mr Hamill it seems has a phobia of, or general disdain for, what he refers to as “social hugging” - which is of course the hug from a friend, colleague or acquaintance which is shared upon meeting or imparting some sort of worthy news (be it good or bad).

Now I have to admit for a while I did find this kind of situation a little uncomfortable. A bit like a first kiss, there is always the general worry about where to position yourself, the fear of accidental wandering hands or clashing heads. Sometimes it felt a little forced and, even to a bonafide hugger like myself, a little against the grain. While we Irish like to think we are full of craic and great fun to be around, deep down in a great many of us lies a deep-seated sense of reservation at getting into close personal contact with anyone other than our very nearest and very dearest.

There have been times when I have shied away from a hug or offered an all too brief exchange but in recent years I’ve come to realise that hugs can’t hurt or harm you. And it feels nice.

Let’s face facts, we live in a world where, quite easily, we could if we wished go days without any physical interaction with another human being. In an age of Facebook and Twitter, you don’t even need to hear someone’s voice to converse with them. You no longer need to go to the shops to order your shopping, it can be brought to your door. Your banking can be done online. Your business can be conducted over e-mail, or Skype.

While the mass of communication around us has in many ways allowed us to become a little closer, the lack of actual person to person interaction has, I think, left a wee want in many of us.

A hug says hello. It says, ‘I’m glad to see you’. It says, ‘It has been too long’. It says ‘I may not be able to find the words to tell you how I admire you, but here this hug will show you’. It says ‘It was nice to see you’. It says ‘Thanks for listening’. It says ‘I’m glad you are my friend’.

Now, I know that may have many of you reaching for the sick bucket because we don’t often tell people in this country how we feel about them. We can quite easily slag someone off as a token of our affection, laughing and blustering our way through a psuedo insult. It’s much easier in this country to ‘lovingly’ call someone a gobsh*te than to offer them a hug by way of comfort.

I read an apt quote this week, which perhaps Norman may want to read. “Hugging has no unpleasant side effects and is all natural. There are no batteries to replace, it’s inflation-proof and non-fattening with no monthly payments. It’s non-taxable, non-polluting, and is, of course, fully refundable.”

So perhaps we all need to let our guard down a little and hug a bit more.