What I learned from free hugs

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January 2008, I held my first free hug event. I had seen the original video many times and decided it was time to take the plunge and give some love and kindness to others by giving a free hug. What I didn’t realize on that cold January day is what I would learn about myself and others through a simple free hug.

What I learned was facing my fears as although I am now known as the hug lady, back on that cold January day I was TERRIFIED. I felt exposed and vulnerable on what if I didn’t get any hugs? What if people laughed at me? What if I got in trouble? We didn’t get a lot of hugs on that day, yet it was a powerful day of facing my fears and finding out not only was it worthwhile to face them, I loved it.

Since that cold January day, I’ve given free hugs twice a month in Chicago along with creating Global Free Hugs day. Has the fear dissipated? Absolutely, however still to this day I am nervous at the beginning of free hugs. Will the new huggers that come have a great experience? And yes, I still have a tinge of what will others walking by think of me. And yet walking through that fear has led to some of my most amazing experiences sharing a connection with people I wouldn’t have met. Celebrating with those celebrating birthdays, marriages, new jobs as they get a hug. Holding those a little tighter who share loss of a loved one, a job, or something else they are sad about. And then the majority who come through with a hug and a thank you that made my day comment.

Yesterday (or actually this morning) a new AHA on what giving free hugs has meant to me hit me as I thought about a comment made by someone who chose not to receive a hug. She was afraid of catching Ebola.

Since the beginning of Positive Focus I have advocated that the world is filled with kind and loving people that far outweigh those living in deep fear and hurting others. I realized yesterday’s free hug event was a microcosm of our global citizens.

We give free hugs on a very busy corner in downtown Chicago where there are lots and lots of tourists from around the world along with Chicagoans going about their day.  People from all nationalities walk by us and I actually mentioned that yesterday how I loved hearing all the different accents and languages.

This cross section of global citizens reinforced my belief that kindness far outweighs fear. The vast majority (thousands) of people on this crowded corner walked past us without participating. Many of those that walk by smile while others take time to say great job, thank you, the world needs more of that. Some snicker and have a nervous laugh. And still a few comment on it being weird, I don’t like hugs, are you going to pickpocket me, etc. Then there are those (and they are in the hundreds) who choose to get a hug. Some go through the entire line of huggers, while others pick one person out of the line to give a hug. Many of them say that made my day, thank you, keep up the good work. Others share it’s their birthday or they are struggling and haven’t had a hug in days or weeks.

It was near the end of our two-hours of hugs when a woman walking by said no as I’m afraid of Ebola. It actually hadn’t occurred to me that might be an issue for people. Years back during the initial West Virus Niles scare, I too had fear that people wouldn’t hug us. On our first outing during that time people still hugged while some mentioned the virus as their excuse not to. Once she said it, I was actually more surprised that it hadn’t been brought up earlier, yet was grateful it hadn’t.

We always offer hugs as an option and not a request. She had every right to walk by and protect herself from what she was afraid of as do others. Today I saw our 7 billion world citizens in the thousands on the corner of Michigan Ave. and Pearson St. in Chicago. The vast majority go about their lives (walk past hugs) doing their thing. Many others joined in on creating kindness (got hugs, shared kind words) for themselves and others. A minuscule amount showed up in fear. I am confident that all those people I saw yesterday whether they actively participated or simply were in the energy of free hugs choose kindness in a variety of ways in their lives. The point here isn’t that they are fear based for not getting a hug. What I learned and continue to learn is we are far more similar than we are different. We want to be seen, to be heard, and to know we matter just as we are.

Fear exists and yet when you walk through it, on the other side you will discover what you are made of and that in itself is worth it. Thanks again hugs for teaching me about myself and others.

Big hugs,
Carol ‘the Hug Lady’


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