Listen: Hugging Strangers to Improve Mental Health
"Biggest question that I want to ask you and I've really been looking came forward to this interview. How did you land on hugs? I mean of all the things in the world hugging just seems both so obvious and in so far away. Can you talk about this for a moment to. I'm for more than a moment. Actually we can do the whole interview and I grew up in a very nurturing featuring family Nobody left the house about hugs. And I love you. Nobody came back in without hugs. And I love you unlike a lot of people sadly You know a lot of people's homes touch was either violent. Coercive non existed limited sexual or not by consent in my home it was purely by consent and abundant so I told my parents. They raised me to do this kind of work and I came upon the free hugs movement. there's a gentleman named one man people want to Google that it's J. U. A. N. A. N.. And one day he went into his towns. Wear with time that said free hugs. He moved there. I believe from England and as lonely and nothing like twenty minutes by nobody came up to him. People walk by. Look I'm like what the heck is this weird guy doing. And then this older woman came up to him and they the embraced and then people started gathering around and a movement was worn in two thousand fourteen. Valentine's Day weekend. I brought a group of friends to Thirtieth Thirtieth Street station. Which is the big train station? PHILADELPHIA We let ourselves loose or about a dozen of us who've walked around the train station with our free hugs signs offering people love and we did a free hugs flash mob. And it's only by consent. We didn't kamikaze hug anybody. We didn't go grab people we asked. Would you like a hug. And if they said yes. We'd Hug Ugh them. And if they'd say no we'd say thank you hope somebody one of the people that approach us was a gentleman who was in Iraq war vet. He was the only survivor of his platoon. The tune is any ED survivor's guilt and he said I thought about ending my life until I met you. People can join you so of course we gave them a sign and he was off to the races himself and I thought wow we've really got something here. Hugs save lives and I hadn't realized how much so until a few months later on my way home from the gym I had a heart attack at at age fifty five and it's part of my cardiac rehab. I walked around Doylestown Pennsylvania which is closer to home that Villi doing free hugs roles because hugs is our heart friendly not just cardiac friendly but emotionally heart friendly and they connect US heart to heart. So friends started calling. This hug mobsters and said Oh mobsters mafia guns drug van Yeah. I don't think so. What about hug mobsters armed with love and the movement was? I can't say it was born but it was extended beyond what one man did so I do it any everywhere I can. That is incredible and I love everything about it and my favorite phrase in there might be. We aren't hug kamikazes. I come from a loving family as well. We're huggers I always tell people that I am a hugger and kamikaze hugs again. My new favorite phrase that awesome. We hug I mean people just charge you and hug you in my family but of course that's my family. I'm on a first name basis with all of these people. How does this work in the real world? I was like man. If you just like grab people that seems like a really bad idea but if you just walk up to a stranger and say can I give you a hug. I'M NOT GONNA lie. That also seems like a really bad idea. How how were you? Bridging those gaps. Well couple of things particularly in the era of Hashtag Metoo. We want to be really careful about how we touch people bull because anything can be misinterpreted and on the flip side. We want to be sure that we don't buy into touch deprivation that so much a part. You've comparison culture there. The kamikaze hugs even people in my life. If I'm not sure if they WANNA hug will give you a hug. Would you like to hug. And when when I'm out on the street I mean hugged mobster. Sign helps people look at it like okay. What is that or if I how are you sign that says free hugs or if I were t shirt that indicates that I'm doing free hugs? Hugs when I do it out on the street somewhere like I was in Washington. DC hugging in front of the White House and there were people from all over the world all different cultures some of them Hug Your cultures and others and even that you know I was approached people and say may I give you a hug or would you like to share a hug. Some people are hungry for it. I don't say no thank you now. Now good when they think no. I don't want it to good. And they say no you're good but hug somebody So yeah it does kind of weird and culturally sadly because cousin woman it's less threatening because I've had male friends do hugs throws with me and some of them are a little leery about reaching out to hug people so this is changing aging the culture teaching touch culture changing relationship culture. I remember early on in my career for those. Who Don't know I'm six foot three? I'm two hundred seventy five pounds. I'm broad shoulders. I'm just a giant of a man and as I mentioned my family are all huggers and when I first got started people would just come up and hugged me and and I. I loved that that was amazing to me and as I got more comfortable in my role as a speaker and a presenter and public figure for lack of a better word I started randomly hugging people. Back I work in mental health. So there's more women than men but one time I went in for a hug and somebody put up their hand and said no no no. I'm I'm not a hugger in. You should be careful Gabe because people have a history of trauma. People don't like that. I mean you you know you're a man coming in and I thought about that for a moment and now I have the phrase are you a hugger and that that's what I say you know people come up and they talk to me and they're like you know gay Blah Blah Blah and I'm like oh are you a hunger and I opened up my arms terms and if they say no I'm not I say well I'm giving you a mental hug or I'm hugging you in our mind and I reach out my hand or I shake their hands ends or just do whatever they want. But you're right. This idea. That hugging is natural has sort of a weird for me. I'M NOT GONNA lie because I think that a hug. There's just something that you do for everybody whereas other cultures kissing hello is perfectly normal and I think that's very weird so are the majority of people receptive over or are the majority of people not receptive like what's your ratio there. How many people accept the hugs? Okay well most Are Receptive Nice when I first started doing the More people said no because I was uncertain anytime you approach someone with a new idea. The more confident you are the more people are going to be receptive because they sense that energy now a few people they know they thank you. Thanks for taking care of yourself. Not Everybody he is into this and I will do that like if I'm meeting somebody and they'll hold out their hands. I think that's the way you said. Are you a hugger. And Oh yes then. I'll hug them and they say no. And I we'll think hand and when people see not physical embrace of their you cool with handshake high five this bomb virtual hug. Wrap my arms around myself and imagine hugging down and usually they'll say yeah There are times when I've hugged hundreds of people in a day I go to different events like this summer. There were four pride fest and I probably hugged a few hundred people to out full day. I don't keep track. Somebody said Oh you should have a clicker. I don't WanNa do that. Because it takes away from the quality of what I'm doing quantity to doesn't much matter. No it's the impact ripple effect. I'm not totally out trysted. I do it for myself too because because it helps me feel connected to the world when I hug people. I don't know what their politics are. They voted for. I don't know what the religion is. Unless they tell me I don't know what their aired their gender orientation or sexual orientation is and it doesn't matter I just want the world to be a kinder more loving place and if hugged can help with that. I'm all on board with it. The next question that I want to ask is surrounding the worst case scenario you said that the majority of people are accepting the hugs. You've talked about the people who don't want hugs or just like oh no thank you and you say hey you should hug somebody today and they say okay and they wander off. Have you gotten any truly bad reactions. Has Anybody just flipped out. Never know somebody's now. I'm not really into hugs or no. Thank you know. I've never had that but again I think it's because I'm a five foot four inch women. Yeah I have purple hair sometimes and I wear colorful clothing. So I'm not particularly threatening but the coolest things that come out of this. Are the types the people that have had yet. I celebrate the anniversary of my heart attack. The brand new life experience and I always do a free hugs girl on the third party. Adversity a friend of mine. His filmmaker followed me around South Street in Philadelphia and there was this beautiful Muslim woman dressed in full hejab. Her her face wasn't covered. But our head and eh comes up to me and she offers me a hug and she says and who wouldn't want to hug and she's you know kind of gesturing and moving your body around who wouldn't WanNa hug and some people. Don't they say that you know. They don't want them and she liver finger pointing at me and she says even somebody they don't they don't want them they need them and I thought if the people who balch hatred did this beautiful woman who was probably in her forties. I'm guessing talking about the power of hugs to connect people and the the needs that they need. They couldn't possibly hate though. I think that's part of it. The other thing that's important to children when their children around that I offer a hug to later the parent if it's okay with you and okay with your child may help your child if the parent says yes and the Child Says No. I don't touch them and I'll say the child. Nobody touches you without your permission. So it okay that you're saying no when I was in. DC there was a family firm of Dominican Republic and it was a mom dad and probably like a seven or eight year old boy and he didn't want hugs. If I said okay we can do this bumps or high fives and he did both of those so a few minutes later before I left he approaches me and opens his arms so he was asking me for a hug. So I'll continue educator and this is about consensus. Well"