What does a hugger do about social distancing?

Had a few awkward moments yesterday, running into or catching up with friends, and wanting to hug them hello, and then stopping, and asking if it was okay, or appropriate, or would make them feel unsafe…

(Admittedly, a few times, I felt a bit like I was doing theatre improv exercises and had just been in the middle of a scene and told to FREEZE…)

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Then read a great piece from Courtney Martin on “learning from the pandemic pause”:

I’m considering this a pandemic pause. I’m bumping elbows and bowing to friends. I’m learning about social distancing, while trying to make sure my people aren’t feeling isolated. I’m letting go of plans afar and checking in on those close. I’m washing my hands. I’m washing my kids’ hands. I’m trying to speak to them calmly about what corona virus is and what it is not (maybe slightly late on this as Maya has apparently already told some of her classmates that Stella has corona virus…no biggie). I’m ready poetry and watching stand-up to stave off the panic that comes from news binging. I’m riding my bike and smelling the blooming sweet peas and jasmine. I’m fighting even harder for universal healthcare and a leader who actually acts like a leader.I’m finding solace in the fact that “we are all in this together” is not an empty phrase, but an epidemiological fact. I guess we better start acting like it.


This is epidemiology 101.  Sit it out. Stay put. Don’t travel. It is absolutely not worth it. Postpone any movement or travel that are not vitally essential, and to spread the disease as little as possible. via https://www.newsweek.com/young-unafraid-coronavirus-pandemic-good-you-now-stop-killing-people-opinion-1491797?fbclid=IwAR01FEw2twFL8QtmlEkMzrjNrZyNNakgyRuDm-J9CijiZRPMe6YOgXzrxzw

I’m wondering if I can bow hello to friends without it being awkward…


My friend suggested integrating the Wakanda salute into my greetings repertoire but I don’t think I’m cool enough to pull that off.


But it goes to the deeper question, I think: how we can humanize ourselves and make gestures of love and community, if we need to be mindful about using touch, or if our faces have to be masked?

(The clip below shows doctors and health care workers in Iran, where the outbreak is severe, proving their humanity to their patients and colleagues, even if they’re entirely covered… )

I like Martin’s language around this, considering it a pause, the opportunity to stop doing business as usual and just rethink some of the behaviours we take for granted – wiping our bums with extra soft toilet paper made from old growth forest or hugging hello or travelling for work on a whim…

In this beautiful article from YES magazine(thanks Sammy Losee and Diane Zaste for sharing it), the invitation is to consider what kind of behaviour fear will invoke in us: dividing or gathering.

“There’s a way in which fear can be one of two things—the great divider or the great gatherer,” says social justice activist Sonya Renee Taylor, who founded The Body Is Not An Apology movement. “What is the most compassionate, most community-building, the most loving thing right now when everyone is afraid? I think we have an opportunity where we can be great gatherers.”

I can communicate my enthusiasm or affection for people without hugging them, even though that has been my go-to for years.

I realized after reading this that I can respect people who are really nervous and have a heightened feeling of vulnerability right now by not hugging them, or dismissing their heightened concerns:

My friend Asta recently came home from Japan and shortly after, fell ill. She called the Whistler clinic, self-isolated, followed the protocol given her. She wrote about her experience in a letter to the editor in the Pique – happily, she did NOT have coronavirus. (She said she’d never been quite so happy to discover she was suffering from influenza.) But she also shared how well-tended she felt, in that lonely moment where she was sick, suffering and on the brink of a scary place (had she just contracted a potentially deadly virus??! was she unknowingly already responsible for passing it on to her nearest and dearest?), when the health care worker, after telling her she needed to don a mask and use sanitizing gel to come in, also said very clearly and truly: “YOU ARE WELCOME HERE. WE WILL TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOU.”

As the YES magazine article outlines, here are some things we can do:

“offering judgment-free assistance to do specific tasks such as delivering groceries, housecleaning, helping care for children or pets; refraining from purchasing items that sick or disabled people need to survive when they are in short supply; and checking in on isolated friends by calling, texting, etc.”

2 thoughts on “What does a hugger do about social distancing?

  1. Lisa Severn says:

    So much good in this article, Lisa. Like “Banish the binary” – I love that.

    Also a safe greeting plan steeped in tradition:
    “In place of hugs and hand shaking, we will raise our hands to greet and recognize guests; a form of acknowledgement from both our Nations practiced for generations” ~Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

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