Monday, December 2, 2013

Free hugs: Some thoughts and observations

I'm sure by now many of you have heard about "Free Hugs." A guy and a sign in a public place started a trend of strangers offering hugs to strangers. The video makes me cry every time I see it and it's something I've wanted to do since I first heard about it. If you've not yet seen the video go ahead and watch it. I'll wait.

See? It's really something special.

This past Friday I decided it was time to try out Free Hugs myself. I had originally planned on going to an upscale shopping plaze, thinking that a mall on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving that has become a retail frenzy) would be the perfect place to try this out. As I thought about it further, I came up with another locale. I went to Walmart, the home of low prices and lower corporate ethics. My local Walmart (which I must tell you, I have patronized with a sick taste in my mouth, when I just can't afford to shop anywhere else) is in a neighborhood populated by people who don't have very much money. This particular neighborhood has a large Hispanic and African-American population.

I wanted to give out Free Hugs at Walmart because (for me) this store symbolizes some of what's most troubling about American retail. We could argue this ad nauseum, but let's not. It's enough to know that I wanted to give something away in a place that's all about profit and consumption.

I stood outside of Walmart in the cool afternoon, watching people stream in and out of the store. I got a lot of funny looks, mistrusting my motives. I can't blame them - who wants to hug a stranger? I was surprised to realize that I had expected people to know about Free Hugs. What a ridiculous assumption! Why should they?

After about five minutes a woman came up to me with a big smile and her arms extended. We hugged. We thanked each other. She moved on. From there I was hugging people in waves. Four, five, six hugs then nothing for a few minutes. Sometimes people would smile but didn't want hugs, others looked at me sideways, as if I were nuts.

Almost everyone who hugged me asked why I was doing this. I told them all that I thought the world could use a little more kindness, a few more hugs. They all agreed. Black people, white people, Hispanic people, young and old all came up to me for hugs.

There was a man who could have been a hard living 50, long scraggly hair and missing teeth, who came up to me for a hug. Afterwards he asked why I was doing this then said, "Nobody's hugged me in a long time. Thank you."

After I'd been there for about 20 minutes a Walmart employee told me it was time to move on, that I couldn't do this there, that it was probably illegal. I didn't argue, though I honestly wonder if the store had a problem with it or if she did. Security had driven by me several times and didn't stop. I asked if she wanted a hug and she looked at me as if I offered something perverted. How sad.

I couldn't stop grinning afterwards. It felt great hugging those strangers. I plan to do it again. And I'd invite you to hug more. We all need a friendly touch sometimes. Next time you see me, come over with your arms open. I can't wait to hug you, too.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. So happy to hear you had a positive experience. I Free Hug all over the world, I Never leave home without my Free Hugs sign. I offer hugs to homeless people, seeking them out. I've only been turned down Once. Free Hugs has a way of opening people up, connecting us far deeper than the Hug itself. I even did a TEDx about it in Warsaw Poland. :) (where they told me No one would accept a Free Hug, they were Wrong, people hugged by the dozens) :) Here's to connecting with one another; one person, one story, one Hug at a time! HUUUG

  2. I am days late reading this but what a great way to spend the day after thanksgiving. ((((Hugs)))) to you my friend


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