You may recall that in February I wrote a post called ‘The world needs more hugs’ and ended it with Virginia Satir’s expressed belief that “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” I had some awesome feedback about that post and about how it had encouraged some people to give more hugs, which absolutely thrilled me! But moving on from there, about two weeks ago I decided that would be a day on which I would contribute to the growth of everyone I interacted with… yes, everyone! How could I could do that? Well, if it requires twelve hugs a day for growth, I determined that I would contribute to those twelve hugs a day we all require, and in so doing, hopefully contribute to the growth of everyone I interacted with that day. And, believe it or not, this was actually part of The List. One of the items on The List (number 12, to be exact, although I’m not doing them in chronological order) is to “Hug every person you meet in a day”.
So, on my way drive in to work on 11 August (somewhere during my seven-minute trip, between flicking through radio stations, salivating in anticipation of my first cup of coffee at work and working out how far my running program dictated I had to run that evening during training), my thoughts turned to The List and the many items still to be accomplished. And I realised, the time had come… for “hug day”.
While I’m a naturally affectionate person, don’t just assume that hugging everyone would necessarily be an easy thing for me to do. It may well be easier for me than for many other people, given the fact that I am generally affectionate and quite tactile, but that doesn’t render it without its difficulties. And so it was that, after declaring 11 August “hug day” in my mind, I was immediately overcome by anxiety, thinking of the people I was going to encounter during the day and where it would not come naturally for me to give them a hug. Let’s be real – we’re not best friends with everyone we interact with during our day and, going a bit further, there are some people we interact with who may not be our favourite people (and, in my case, I know that there is one particular person in the office who probably considers me his least favourite person).
I had to establish a couple of ground rules to start off with: Firstly, I would hug everyone I encountered personally or interacted with that day – not everyone I saw! So, for example, I did not need to walk around Virgin Active that evening and hug everyone in the gym – that may (would!) just have been weird! Secondly, I would ask permission before I gave anyone a hug. I know that personal space is often a touchy subject (pun intended), and I did not want to make anyone unnecessarily uncomfortable. Thirdly, I would explain to the person where required or appropriate that it’s “hug day” in my world, and I was seeking to spread some love and bring some smiles through hugging everyone I spoke to… provide a bit of context for them (so that not everyone thinks I’ve totally lost the plot!)
So I won’t go through the chronological detail of all the hugging that took place that day, but I can confirm that I duly did hug everyone I encountered. I started with the first person I saw in the office, being our office manager (who is a great hugger 🙂 ) and made my way through the office hugging everyone, including our CEO (who was somewhat taken aback, but nevertheless accepted the hug). But I had to take a massively deep breath when Mr…. um… let’s just call him Mr NFN (Not a Fan of Nicky) walked into the office. My colleague, Tam, sitting next to me immediately turned to look at me, knowing how anxious I was about this individual, urgently whispered to me to take a deep breath, get up, and go and hug him immediately… the longer I waited, the more anxious I would become. So with a whole lot of trepidation, I walked into his office (where he was talking with the boss), explained that it was “hug day”, asked him for a hug, and then held my breath waiting for the disdainful response that I was sure was coming. The boss laughed and responded that I had no chance of getting a hug from Mr NFN. So you can imagine both my (and the boss’s) surprise when Mr NFN turned towards me and opened his arms for a hug! Seriously?
And so the day continued with hugs for everyone – even a new service provider that came for an introductory meeting with us. When the consultant from the service provider walked into the room, introduced himself and held out his hand to shake my hand, I asked him if I could rather give him a hug. While everyone else in the room visibly cringed, he readily agreed and our relationship was accordingly established through a hug.
And while I know that I was enjoying “hug day”, bring smiles and a bit of extra love to people that day, I also came to learn that the people around me were enjoying it just as much. After being out of office for a meeting in the afternoon, I got back to my desk where a Skype message was waiting for me, from my colleague and friend, Linda, who had clearly been told about “hug day” and thought I wasn’t coming back to my desk. Needless to say, Linda got her hug 🙂
There were two very interesting reactions that I have thought about many times since then. The first was from a guy in the office whom I have worked with for just less than a year. When I approached him during the morning and and asked him for a hug, he responded with a mumbled (but firm) “no” accompanied by an embarrassed laugh. Notwithstanding that he is an introvert and fairly quiet, I didn’t expect that reaction, and it somehow left me feeling a bit embarrassed and exposed – notwithstanding that I realised it actually had nothing to do with me.
The second was from a lovely lady at Bryanston Virgin Active. She swiped my access card as I entered the gym and, when I asked her if I could please have a hug, she immediately came out from behind the counter, gave me a warm hug and asked me, more than once, if I’m okay. Although I assured her I was fine, and that it was “hug day” in my world, she insisted in making sure that there was nothing wrong that required me to need hugs from everyone that day. She was the only person during the day who tried to dig a bit deeper to really check that I was okay, and given that I had never met her before and she had no idea what my story is, this really touched me.
I haven’t sat down to try and count everyone I physically hugged on “hug day”, but at a rough guess, it was about 40 people. And even though I couldn’t physically hug everyone in my world that I would want to on that day, the day still ended with a virtual hug from someone very special to me who was out of town at the time, and who gave me a virtual hug via whatsapp to end my day instead.
I think Virginia Satir would confirm that 11 August was, for me, definitely a day of growth, having far exceeded the twelve hugs needed for growth. More importantly, however, is my hope that I contributed to the growth of those in my world. When I said in my post in February that the world needs more hugs, I firmly believed it at the time. And I believe it even more now, having seen the impact that “hug day” can have on your world.
Two important postscripts:
- A few days ago, the guy at work who refused my hug came up to my desk and asked to speak with me privately. (Now just to contextualise, if you ask me if you can speak to me privately, I start stressing. It’s the same as if you leave a message on my phone asking me to call you. I need to know what it’s about, otherwise my overactive anxious mind jumps to the worst, and I immediately start worrying about what I’ve said or done wrong.) Of course I agreed and, in a meeting room behind a closed door, he confessed that he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the hug (or lack thereof). And he wanted to ensure that I didn’t take it personally, and that I knew it had nothing to do with me. He said that he is the most extreme introvert and was completely taken aback by my request. But most importantly, he wanted to make sure that I was okay about it, and knew that it was not about me. Wow! I had a lump in my throat. This man having the guts to chat to me about this – as an introvert, and someone who does everything possible to avoid confrontation, I knew how hard it must have been for him to chat to me like this. And, despite the lack of a hug, my respect for him is tremendous.
- The second postscript is more of a personal one and relates to the virtual hug that ended “hug day” for me. That hug was sent to me from a man in my life whom I have known for about nine months now and who has become very important to me. Our relationship has gone through interesting times, and sometimes months have passed between when we have seen each other or chatted. Yet somehow we have always reconnected. This man has been through a lot over the last two years or so and I have given him as much support and space as I could. However, after recognising that I was starting to fall in love with this man, the reality was that we seemed to have different perspectives on our relationship and, a few days after the virtual hug, I lost him. My heart is sore. Very very sore. I was hoping to build a relationship with this man that would last a long time. Why am I telling you this? Because the virtual hug I referred to above in this blog, is somewhat bittersweet to me as I look back on it now. It was the last hug I received from him…and I didn’t know it at the time. So take the time to appreciate the hugs you give and you get. And never stop giving them! Your life and the lives of everyone in your world will be so much richer for it.