Hugs are free, but they’re not for ev­ery­body

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - Gina Bar­reca is a pro­fes­sor of English lit­er­a­ture at the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut. BY GINA BAR­RECA

I just got back from my weekly trip to the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. I usu­ally count the num­ber of items I get, but this week, I also counted hugs.

Hugs are free, no pur­chase re­quired. One came from a woman I know from the post of­fice, one from a man who re­tired from teach­ing, one from a friend who works at the store’s deli counter, one from some­one who in­tro­duced her­self as a reader of the columns and one from a Face­book friend (sud­denly live and in per­son) in the park­ing lot.

I’m tac­tile, and touch is one way of the ways I com­mu­ni­cate. As is the case with many of my tribe — eth­nic types of work­ing-class ori­gin who are too old for work-study and too young for cre­ma­tion — I’m a sleeve-pat­ter, a wrist-grab­ber and cheek-kisser. I live in Lit­tle Old Lady Land, and five hugs at a fa­mil­iar venue is fairly typ­i­cal.

I un­der­stand, how­ever, that for many peo­ple, touch can be not only a for­eign lan­guage but one ca­pa­ble of trans­mit­ting only ag­gres­sive, de­hu­man­iz­ing and scary mes­sages.

About a dozen years ago, I had a stu­dent who ex­plained to me that she hated be­ing touched. It made her cringe no mat­ter what its in­ten­tion. She taught me to ask whether peo­ple were com­fort­able with a hug or even a warm hand­shake be­fore pre­sum­ing they were. It was a bound­ary I needed to see more clearly and a les­son I needed to learn.

So while I con­tinue to of­fer hugs to stu­dents who seem to wel­come them, I never foist them upon any­one. I ask first. If you’re cry­ing and eating cold pizza in my of­fice, ex­plain­ing your trou­bles and seek­ing ad­vice from me and from the other stu­dents who are al­ways there, the ges­ture seems as rea­son­able as of­fer­ing a tis­sue.

But not ev­ery­one in­ter­prets it as gen­eros­ity.

Kristina Dolce, a teacher whose mid­dle-school kids at­tach them­selves to her like Vel­cro, knows that even in­vi­ta­tions for phys­i­cal ex­pres­sion need to be framed fairly: “If you’re ask­ing with the pre­sump­tion of a ‘yes,’ you’re not re­ally ask­ing.”

That pre­sump­tion of ac­cep­tance is prob­a­bly where Joe Bi­den, a politi­cian I have of­ten (if not al­ways) ad­mired, made his mis­take. Bi­den prob­a­bly imagined that his good in­ten­tions were suf­fi­ciently trans­par­ent and that he would al­ways get the ben­e­fit of the doubt, even if he stum­bled.

A line of­ten at­trib­uted to Mark Twain but ac­tu­ally writ­ten by Oliver Wen­dell Homes, Jr. states, “Even a dog dis­tin­guishes be­tween be­ing stum­bled over and be­ing kicked.”

What Bi­den missed was that in­creas­ing num­bers of women are recognizing that when we were on the re­ceiv­ing end of op­pro­bri­ous touches, we were meant to de­fine them as “harm­less,” as if harm was de­fined by the one in­flict­ing the wound and not by the one wounded. We were taught that the un­wanted touch­ing, the un­sought in­ti­macy, the slimy grasp and the sala­cious in­nu­en­dos were to be sloughed off as stum­bles, even when our own deep­est in­stincts told us they were de­lib­er­ate and ma­li­cious.

Af­ter enough kicks, even a stum­ble will raise a growl. That, I be­lieve, is the noise Bi­den is hear­ing.

‘‘ I UN­DER­STAND, HOW­EVER, THAT FOR MANY PEO­PLE, TOUCH CAN BE NOT ONLY A FOR­EIGN LAN­GUAGE BUT ONE CA­PA­BLE OF TRANS­MIT­TING ONLY AG­GRES­SIVE, DE­HU­MAN­IZ­ING AND SCARY MES­SAGES.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.