Open Bar: When searching for an appropriate greeting, consider a hug (column)
October 1, 2017
Salutations are a time fraught with anxieties about an appropriate greeting. The allegedly proper hello depends on the context (business versus social), the recipient (friend, foe, client, crush) and the length of the relationship (first meeting or 500th), among other factors. One does not fist-bump the Pope or high-five one's grandma, unless she is cool like that. The amount of permutations coupled with the amount of thought given to them can lead to some extremely awkward encounters. Which is why I simplify the process and proceed straight to a hug.
In this fractious, disconnected time, there is no more literal or meaningful connection than holding, and being held by, a fellow human being. It inspires hope to see two people comfortable enough with each other, and more importantly themselves, choosing to take a few seconds to bond.
Timing is a critical factor: too quick makes it seem like a chore, but linger too long and creepiness ensues. Mutuality and alignment are also important. It is best to avoid one of those half-hearted, half-baked, one-arm abominations. I may rather be slapped than given a side-hug. I want the real article, the tight squeeze, the comfort of support.
There is a saying that we should choose hugs and not drugs. But that is a false dichotomy: Hugs are drugs. I'm no scientist, but I imagine that a warm embrace floods our bodies with chemicals that are not precisely intoxicating, but pleasant and life affirming nonetheless. And, while fortunately not addictive, once one indulges in the pleasure of a solid hug, it is hard to go back to life as it existed prior.
Hugs feel amazing, but they are not a sexual connection, a conflation that tends to dissuade would-be huggers. Homophobia, that great scourge, was long a roadblock to the concept of a male embrace, particularly in the United States. Abroad, even in less progressive countries, men regularly hug, kiss each other on the cheek and even stroll hand in hand. Fortunately, evolving domestic mores have begun to eradicate the stigma attached to contact between men, whether gay, straight, questioning, transgender or the other lovely portions of the human spectrum.
It takes a certain level of confidence to begin an interaction with a hug. Buoyed by this self-esteem, those more enthusiastic about the practice can be perceived as overbearing by those more reticent. Certainly, one must be mindful of the personal space of one's huggee. But, and I am biased here, sometimes people just need a big bear hug to overcome their shyness, to set the tone for a positive experience.
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There is a fine line, to be certain, but I tend to believe that huggers are emotionally attuned enough to not cross the divide between friendly and obnoxious. Huggers tend to be apologetic about their predilection, but if their actions are pure, they should not be: They are providing a much-needed service.
Hugs are not a legal remedy and they should not be: A court-ordered hug is not a pleasant hug. But hugs could have an important place in dispute resolution. The cooperative feeling engendered by enveloping one's adversary in one's arms is perhaps enough of a catalyst to solve the underlying issue.
Whether it be diplomacy by hug or simply the eradication of the great handshake battles, I look forward to the day when the hug becomes the default mode of greeting. Simple shifts portend great advances.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.