I would like to talk about something that happened to me years ago – but has always stuck in my mind ever since. I once had a job at an elementary school, working with at-risk children, helping them with reading and assorted other subjects. It was one of the best jobs I have ever had – I thoroughly loved it. Nothing beats helping young people!
While I was going through “orientation,” I was told something that sounded odd, but I accepted it nonetheless. Being a male in an elementary school environment, I was told that I would attract attention. This did not thrill me because attention makes me uncomfortable. But if it was for the good of the children, it was fine by me.
I was also told that, “If a child hugs you, don’t hug back!” That stopped me in my tracks. It sounded bizarre at the time. But I was explained why the school had the policy, and I understood completely. Nothing is more important than the safety of children. Besides, I was not a “touchy-feely” kind of person, so the rule would be easy for me to follow. I never gave it much thought – until later.
It turns out that I was hugged over and over – and I never hugged back.
Soon I began to notice something. Other teachers did hug back. In fact, some hugged over and over and called student’s names like “honey” and “dear” and “sweetie.” These were all female teachers.
A double standard? You betcha!
Now I never said anything about this – until now – not because there is something wrong with me and I want to hug kids, but because of the reaction I saw when they did not get hugged back. There I stood cold and rigid like a telephone pole in the middle of winter, accepting my hug without returning it. Then, when I would look into the eyes of the young person at my side, what did I see?
Rejection! It was clear that their feelings were hurt.
These young people were clearly in need of some positive reinforcement from a male role model; but I was not allowed to show any, aside from the verbal. It got to the point where a fist bump or high five seemed too risky. The environment felt cold and sterile.
So, then what do we teach our males? Do we teach them to suppress emotions, to reject love in favor of toughness? And hasn’t our whole society drifted in this direction, where it is easier to criticize than to praise, where you are afraid to post a positive message for fear of receiving hate messages back, and where your self-worth is measure by how much harm you can do to another person?
Is love dead in the world?
Well, it may be for some, but not for me! Today I reach out and tell everyone – even men – do not be afraid to love and feel and express yourself. It will not make you less of a man; it will make you MORE of one!
Today I reach out to the world. Today I hug back!