Sunday, February 15, 2009

Free Hugs!


My dear friend (DF) and I were sitting in the restaurant of the Sylvia Hotel having lunch on Valentine's Day. We had a window table which looked out over English Bay. It was fascinating to watch the pedestrian traffic on the seawall, people of all ages out enjoying what felt like a glorious spring day.

Part way through lunch I noticed a group of about a dozen young people gathered on the grassy strip which runs alongside the seawall. They were each carrying colourful posters with "FREE HUGS" written on them. As strangers approached them on the seawall, the 'huggers' rushed up to them with their arms outstretched, hoping to find enthusiastic 'huggees'.

DF and I had a wonderful time watching the reactions of the people passing by. I decided that this had to be a Unitarian Youth Group who'd decided to celebrate Valentine's Day by giving out hugs. (I once worked with a Unitarian Youth Group and this was exactly the kind of activity they might do.) DF thought it could be a Psych 101 class conducting an experiment and if we looked closely we'd spot other young people sitting on park benches, taking notes on the reaction of strangers to the huggers.

The reactions were fascinating. Many people saw the crowd of poster-carrying youth in advance and gave them a wide berth. Others were caught by surprise and found themselves in an unexpected embrace. Many seized the moment for what it was, a way of spreading good-will, and enthusiatically embraced the huggers. Everyone watching the event, including DF and myself, felt happy just viewing the fun. I think that was the whole point.

It wasn't until later that I realized that this 'free hug' activity wasn't new. I remember seeing a youtube video of a man named Juann Mann (One Man) in Sydney who started the phenomena.


Unfortunately, the huggers had moved on by the time DF and I had finished our lunches, or I would have been out there receiving my free hug, too.
To all you hugging youth ~
Warm Hugs!! from me.

13 comments:

Sand Dollar Scholar said...

Shelley,
I'm Unitarian and that was funny to think of a youth group activity as hugging.
Despite my somewhat cynical nature I would, on some days, love such a hug from a stranger. We know we are all together in this in the big picture; and for all we know the kids could be our old best friend's child, or our sister's daughter's friends, etc. Strangers are only just friends we haven't met, after all. Here's a hug from a web stranger to you! :-)

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