I am saddened to report that I have failed, and so it seems for the so-called right reasons. Thanks for visiting by piece called Handshakes and Hugs…and please, keep reading.
Some weeks ago during the first days of school, when everyone was happy to be reunited with friends and acquaintances, I walked into the high school cafeteria chatting with students, former clients and faculty members. There were handshakes, high-fives and fist-bumps all around. Then, from out of the corner of my eye a freshman who had attended one of the groups I facilitate for the past two years, jumped out of her seat, raced towards me and gave me a gigantic, full throttle hug. Fair enough. That was good, and welcomed instantly.
Then immediately after came two of her friends in lock-step, total strangers to me, with the first one saying, “I want a hug too,” and the third friend chirping with, “me too, me too” with nearly as much fanfare and gusto as their friend who knew me well. I instinctively and defensively raised both hands in front of me and said, “Whoa, we’re in school, PDA alert…how ‘bout a handshake, instead?” One girl giggled and said, “Sure,” and stuck out her hand to reach mine. But the third student was noticeably taken aback and seemed rebuffed, though she still offered her hand in greeting. Rather than get into a whole explanation of the why’s and why not’s in the middle of the caf I just thanked them for their understanding, made small talk and moved on.
And the experience has been niggling at me ever since.
Over the years I’ve written volumes on the challenges of being a male working with children and teens. And for the record (again) I will state that it’s a very good thing that we have policies and practices in place to help maintain boundaries so that both youth and the adults who work with them feel as safe as possible, especially within institutions like schools. But still, there are times as a human family, when we could have more and could do better in terms of being real and present in the moment, one to another.
The moment I described above was one of those instances. However, rather than critique how well I carried myself professionally or how poorly I missed the mark, I’ll leave it here with a terrific video clip sent to me many months ago by a long-time friend of mine. Enjoy it. It’s good. And if you watch it closely, you will see, and perhaps feel, everything I’ve spoken of above.
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