Humanism and Hugs

November 12, 2009

I have a sense that what I say here may be subject to misinterpretation, so let me be clear about one point at the outset: I have nothing against hugs. I give hugs and I receive hugs. Hugs are generally a good thing. The precise message they convey depends on the context, but at a minimum, they usually mean something like: "I'm really glad to see you." What's wrong with that?

Nothing -- if the hug is given voluntarily.

As you might expect, in the last couple of years I have been to quite a few humanist meetings, conferences, and gatherings. At some of these events, usually toward the beginning of the event, someone will solemnly issue an instruction like this: "Now let's hug each other." The first couple of times that this happened I gave hugs to whoever was nearby because -- well, when in Rome...

But I have stopped responding to the hug command. This is not because I'm anti-hug but because I am pro-hug -- when the hugs are heartfelt and voluntary. But hugs-on-command debase hugs. A forced hug is about as genuine as a three dollar bill. A forced hug is a contradiction in terms, like "compulsory love," "drafted volunteer," or "Justice Scalia." Hugs-on-command consitute an empty ceremony that succeeds only in draining the emotional content from what should be a beautiful expression of friendship, concern, or love.

As I have stated, I'm all in favor of voluntary hugs. The next time that you're at a humanist gathering, by all means hug others if you're so inclined (yes, you can even hug me, if you want). But let's dispense with the hug-on-command. If we were craving ritual, we'd all be attending church.

With respect to the contention that we need to encourage warm feelings among humanists, I say that we should have more confidence in our fellow humanists. Humanists can both think and feel for themselves. We don't need a priest, ringmaster, or cult leader to tell us when to stand, sit, genuflect ... or hug.


#1 Melody (Guest) on Thursday November 12, 2009 at 4:47pm

I used to be anti-hugs, but I give them freely now. I’m ambivalent about the hugs-on-command. But I will say that a voluntary hug can help humanists feel connected. I was really pleased when I read Paul Fidalgo’s article on CFI-DC’s Blasphemy Day event and the warm reception he received.

“But upon entering the den of atheism that is CFI’s Eastern Market office, is one accosted by snide, haughty hyper-intellectuals sneering at believers? Is one overwhelmed with horrific satanic images and grotesquely offensive and violent denigrations of the faithful?

Maybe that’s what happens sometimes, but tonight, all I got were hugs. Friendly people wielding not smirks and disdain, but wine, cheese, and smiles.”

#2 James Spiller (Guest) on Thursday November 12, 2009 at 5:00pm

Hugs lose their magic when they’re taken out of context.

When they’re spontaneous,  there’s a warmth and a wonder that lifts us and connects us.

I’m anti-‘command’, but utterly, wonderfully pro-hug.

#3 Randy on Thursday November 12, 2009 at 7:01pm

I am also against the hugs-on-command conspicuous display of affection.  It’s the same kind of fake-friendship that (among other things) drives me away from religious groups. 

Friendship and affection are earned, and therefore the expression of such through hugs is not an immediate thing, and is inappropriate for introductions or to enforce community.  After being pressured into hugging my neighbour, I always feel creeped out.

#4 ThinkingMom on Friday November 13, 2009 at 4:55am

Sometimes I don’t mind the forced hug.  I’m generally not into spontaneous hugging, but if I feel like hugging someone, I start worrying if my feelings will be reciprocated.  Takes the guesswork out of it all when it’s brought out in the open.

#5 Diane G (Guest) on Sunday November 22, 2009 at 9:09pm

Hear, hear.

BTW, the last hug-commander I encountered was Paul Kurtz speaking to a MI freethought chapter.

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