Saturday, January 12, 2008

Perceptions About Hugs

I was making lunch the other day and turned on the the twelve o'clock news. There was Deborah LaFavre, the high school teacher convicted a while back of having sexual relations with a student, in trouble again. This time for non-sexually hugging a female coworker who was crying. Tax dollars are obviously hard at work on this one. But it did make me think about the hug and what it communicates to people.

Some Kinds of Hugs

The passion hug: Hey, baby... (This would be, um, verboten for us married folk outside the marriage, 10-40?)

The consoling hug: I'm so sorry you hurt.

The oops hug: I'm so sorry I did that.

The grateful hug: Thank you so much!

The genuinely glad to see you hug:: I have missed you!

The I-think-I-should-hug-you-because-it's-been-a-while-but-I-really-don't-want-to:: Let's just do this and get it over with, shall we?

The oh, no, we made eye contact and here he/she comes hug: Bleeeech!

One of my friends asked me a while back, "When you hug someone... who breaks the hug first?" I said, "I don't know!" but was intrigued by the premise. My friend says she never wants to be the first to break a hug. She hangs in there until the other person is doing hugging and this communicates something. I will say, she is a world-class hugger.

Have you ever hugged someone and it's like encountering a dehydrated fish? Like there are so many walls and barriers that you just know that they would really rather not? This is the equivalent of a limp handshake and when you encounter it, you are up close and personal with the way in which our body language can contradict our words. If "I'm so happy to see you" accompanies the dead fish "air hug"... one might wonder whether or not that person really is happy to see you.

Perception or Reality?

"... Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

The Bible tells us that our perceptions can be pretty shallow. We people tend to button up all sorts of conclusions on the basis of how things look versus how things really are. So we should really try to avoid judging one another on the basis of porous externals that may or may not represent our true feelings. A dead fish "air hug" doesn't necessarily expose the nature of someone's heart. The fact is, some people are more demonstrative than others. This doesn't really mean that they necessarily care more. Some people have had physical boundaries violated in the past and are wary of close encounters. There are any number of reasons some people would rather not get too close.

However, you should know... especially if you have a Christian ministry to hurting people... that they may be judging you! Making assessments about the genuineness and compassion of your ministry based upon how things appear. Was it a real hug you just gave me? Or a fake hug? A real smile? Or a fake smile? Real concern? Or fake concern? And on and on. And, as it relates to body language, if there's something that appears disingenous, it can undermine your ability to minister to others most effectively.

Bottom Line: Hugging or physical contact is not always appropriate, especially in non-ministry work settings. But if the context is right... and you do make the effort to hug someone... but you stop short of really hugging them... you may be communicating something different than what you really feel. The next time you hug... think about the gesture. What do you suppose you communicate to others by the way you embrace?

Can you tell I'm between semesters...

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