Tony Kriz Gets Touchy: Interpersonal Affection in America

I love hugs. I don’t know how many people know that about me, but I do. I figured out a few years back that not everyone does, however. People have this thing about personal bubbles, apparently, so I made it up in my mind somewhere to assume that everyone I come into contact with has one until proven otherwise. As a result, I’d like to think I creep people out a little less.

In Neighbors and Wise Men, Tony Kriz talks about his experiences as a young missionary in Albania, specifically how, after befriending a young Albanian man named Gensi, he was greeted with a huge hug and a kiss on each cheek. Being an American, where everyone has a perceived personal bubble, you can imagine this was a pretty awkward experience. The experience of close contact like that, however, is completely natural in Albania. People prefer to sit close together rather than apart, and resting your head on the shoulder of your best friend (even of the same gender), is completely normal.

Why is America so different?  Tony prefers to blame our Puritanical roots, and our association of touch with something either sensual or inappropriate. This comes from all angles too, be it our upbringing, school, church, television, whatever. By the time we’re teenagers, touch has something to do with sex.  Clearly, gentlemen, if a girl hugs you, she wants to have sex with you.  Ladies, a guy who comes in for a hug wants to have sex with you.

Anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

Touch is a good thing with a bad image. Yes, touching CAN lead to sex, and that’s all well and good, but you shouldn’t have to hug one of your same gender friends by prefacing it with a “no homo” (a phrase that needs to die in and of itself).  Women are better at this with each other than men in my opinion, but when it comes to inter-gender interaction of a physical nature, ulterior motives are immediately assumed.

All I’m trying to say is that touch doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  We’re a long way from eliminating the mindset of our culture, but I’d love to see it where we learn to express affection for one another with touch more often.  Sometimes, a hug says more than words (often, actually), and some people really need it.  It says you’re there for them, says you’re going to help them.  Touch in any way says so much more than just stating for the record, “I’m here for you.”

That being said, go hug someone.


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