Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Universal Embrace

“This is what I like about Americans,” is what I think my student said between sniffles. I had just offered her a hug after she broke down crying. She accepted and then proceeded to tell me what I’d heard a number of times before: that Vietnamese culture doesn’t allow for that sort of comforting. She appreciated my willingness to do what she said people close to her refuse to do.

For a “huggy” person like myself, it’s often hard to imagine what life is like in a society where physical contact is kept down to a minimum, even between parents and children, even when someone is experiencing emotional trauma. We’re so concerned about those living in developing nations with inadequate food supplies, poor water quality, and substandard health care. Yet there are people, not just orphans, that seem to be suffering from a prolonged oxytocin deficiency that is easily curable, relatively speaking.

I’m not saying that Asian cultures that respect the individual’s personal space have no value. (If I did, I wouldn’t have spent so many undergraduate years studying the historic Chinese American community.) However, I do question whether or not they provide a healthy environment, especially when so many women – even older ones – I’ve met have voiced dissatisfaction with it.

This is final exam week, so my student will be off to Vietnam soon to be with her family over break. Will she tell them how she feels? I don’t know. If she did, would they hug her and let her cry on their shoulder, as she seemed eager to do with me? I don’t think so. And when I remember the look of loneliness in the girl’s eyes, I worry…a lot. She’s literally starving, and like with anorexia, too many people believe it’s a good thing.


  1. Like laughter, touch is horrendously neglected. I vividly remember the look of extreme loneliness and fear in an elderly lady's eyes years ago while singing to a group in an assisted living center. I deeply regret not having the courage to just hold her hand while we sang to her and those around her. :(

    Knowing that infants will literally die if they don't receive enough touch, we must stand in the gap with appropriate touch for adults.

  2. Very interesting. Having worked in a nursing home, I remember seeing the effects a simple hug can have on one who has been starving...

    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Love is an action word.

    I'm not a huggy person, but sometimes I wish I was. And there are times when I really crave and desire a great big hug.

    But growing up, I didn't really grow up in that environment. On top of that, my mom had to be careful with me, because of the disability.

    Anyway, I say, keep on hugging.



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