Hugs are a small gesture of friendship, comfort, and understanding. Given the current socio-economic and political climate we could all use a little more of each of those! Hugs offer health benefits and have even been proven to help ease depression and are all together pretty great. A Free Hug campaign is something I think we’re all familiar with as an abstract, “out there” idea, but how many of us actually understand the power it has to positively impact communities?
In 2013 I was attending a conference in Washington D.C. the day after the widely remembered government shutdown began. For those of you who aren’t aware almost every tourist attraction in Washington D.C. is funded by the federal government. So what was there to do? Free museums? Nope. Open air monuments? Well those were all chained up. We could just walk around and look at the outsides of buildings…
We found a solution in our keynote speaker at the opening session of the conference. He spoke about the importance of engaging with everyone around you and creating welcoming communities. A video of a man starting an iconic Free Hugs campaign accompanied his speech and he brought plenty of “Free Hugs” signs for the audience.
As the opening session adjourned the group I traveled with grabbed some signs and hit the streets of our nation’s capital. The reactions we received were fantastic. We passed runners who were hesitant to hug us because of their sweaty clothes, fellow travelers excited to see happy faces in a city that was holding its breath waiting to get back to work, capital police standing ready to defend and protect, and as we approached the capital building all of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Congress members were beside themselves, some moved by our kind gesture and others trying to figure out if we had an angle and an agenda we were trying to push. We were simply trying to bring happiness and a welcoming feeling when it was needed most through the power of hugs.
I would offer a challenge to each of you to connect with your community to an even greater extent by going on your own Free Hugs campaign. You will touch people’s lives in a way you will never fully be aware of and it is an experience you will carry with you forever. To my fellow “huggers” out there- you’re awesome! To those who would prefer to be left alone, a smile can do great things for you and the world as well J