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< Echoes of Memory

Requiem for Hugging?


By Peter Gorog

We are in the fourth month of the COVID-19 quarantine and government-imposed restrictions. Of all the safety-related recommendations, the hardest to follow for me is the social distancing in general, and the rule of no hugging and kissing.

I come from a long line of huggers, and my children inherited my hugging gene, if there is one. From day one they were cuddled, hugged, and kissed from the moment they woke up until they went to sleep in the evening. It has changed slightly only in frequency and intensity as they grew older but it never stopped, not even now. The reason I think that it is in their DNA is that even during their teenage years they did not frown when I hugged them. Those of you who have daughters know what I am talking about, and those of you who don’t, you would not understand even if I tried to explain it.

Behavioral scientists and sociologists now predict that all forms of social contact will fundamentally change after our life returns to normal, if ever. According to some of them, hugging and kissing indiscriminately will be the first to go away. I dearly hope that they will be proven wrong. The centuries-old European and Middle Eastern customs of hugging and kissing when you meet or depart from your loved ones has survived wars, plagues, famine, and the turbulent history of the regions. This custom has not been restricted to family members or close acquaintances only. In many cultures it is practiced when one meets someone for the first time. Even heads of states sometimes smooched when they came together to negotiate. 

If you believe in all the research done in many countries, the health benefits of hugging are endless. Hugging a loved one not only helps you bond with them, it also lowers your blood pressure, improves your memory, softens your personality, and makes you become more empathetic over time. Practicing hugging also can reduce stress and lower your risk of anxiety, depression, and illness, and it is the oldest and finest method of building trust. According to these studies, a hug triggers the release of oxytocin, which is a powerful hormone that plays a vital role in the human body. It is also thought to be involved in broader social cognition and behavior, potentially ranging from mother-infant bonding and romantic connection to group-related attitudes and prejudice.

The first readers of my musing about hugging will be my friends at the Echoes of Memory class at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We are all Holocaust survivors, we all came from Old World countries, we all experienced the love of our families and friends, even under the most horrific times in our life. Hugging is in our DNA. Until our last meeting in person on February 20, 2020, many of us gave a few hearty hugs not only to each other, but also to our beloved teacher and mentor, Maggie, and to the Museum staff too. Since then we have lived in a virtual world and conducted our business on the internet: our computers are connected but we are not. We have our classes and meetings in cyberspace; we use special applications on our computers and smartphones so we can see and hear each other, and give virtual hugs to our friends. It is a very poor substitute for the real thing.

I am not a professional prognosticator, but I am convinced that hugging will never go out of fashion. In my humble opinion there is no replacement for the physical interaction humans desperately need. It may be first just for close family, as we in our family never stopped hugging our loved ones. Later we will include our closest trusted friends, but sooner or later hugging will take its rightful place among the socially acceptable forms of contact. 

© 2022, Peter Gorog. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   peter gorogechoes of memory, volume 14contemporary eventsfriendsvolunteering at the museum

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