A few years ago I had a period of time where I stopped having relationships, I was busy with work, bringing up my son, studying, creating a safe home for us both and devoid of platonic or other touch from another adult for long periods of time. I didn’t notice how much this affected me until one day my friend’s uncle was putting up shelves for me and he touched me to move me out of his way… my whole body relaxed it was unbelievable, the automatic physiological change was massive. The instant relief from a simple everyday platonic gesture was immeasurable. Needless to say uncle Colin became a bit of a legend!
Physical contact is important, whether lying on the sofa with your children, partner, brother, sister, mother, friend or pet, the contact promotes a sense of comfort – until your circulation is cut off or you’re really peeved with the person because they want to watch or talk about something you don’t want to!
I worked for many years assessing people who had drug or alcohol problems for rehabilitation programmes. I was fortunate to meet many inspiring people whose life journeys could make a best selling novel or a blockbuster film. It was impossible not to be moved by the true vastness of human experience and survival. To sit with someone and listen to their story, their experience and not have some form of physical contact – a touch of an arm, a hello hug, a massive hug when someone returns from a successful rehab experience – yet less and less people touch in any informal way on a daily basis.
We are rammed up against each other on commuter trains, buses and tubes. Swerving out of the way as we launch ourselves through hoards of people on the high street, everything is about avoiding. Avoid eye contact on the tubes, trains and buses, that way if anything kicks off we can claim we didn’t see. Avoid the young people, because they are scared and therefore frightening and threatening to us. Avert our gaze as the young boys begin fighting and watch the news of how another young man is dead.
I remember being embarrassed by my mother telling off other children for behaving badly in public, and now I see how important it is to engage. She engaged, it was mortifying as a child and teenager but with hindsight at least she cared enough to bother. To engage we need eye contact, we need a sense of purpose, connection and meaning.
In September last year (2010) I began studying for an MSc in applied positive psychology (MAPP), an area I have been very interested in for a long time. The learning process of what works in building a flourishing life has long been a part of my life and now to pull it all together, understand the evidence in context has been an incredible process and continues to be. This is where the seeds were sown, the making sense of real experience through a scientific lens solidifying the basis for which I began Guerrilla Hugs.
Back in July 2010 I was introduced to an organisation called the School of Life. They offer fabulous real life-relevant classes and the infamous Sunday Sermons, an alternative to attending a church one Sunday a month? I was looking for ways that I could get to one of the classes or attend the sermons so I booked firstly for Raymond Tallis on Wonder and Lord Richard Layard on Happiness. Both inspired me, the latter because it also confirmed that I had been learning a huge amount of information regarding happiness and well being since September, which was a bit of a ‘phew’ moment!
I spoke to Lord Layard (Action for Happiness) after his sermon, I wanted to know why he had not mentioned touch? It seemed that everything else was mentioned and touch was not there. Lord Layard was clear that touch was an important part of being happy and flourishing life. I Asked him for a hug, which he duly gave, which, in turn made me very happy! Away I went, I discussed this with my friends as we wandered and wondered around Red Lion Square and the vicinity, popping into the People’s Supermarket as we chatted.
Do we, as individuals, decide that touching, hugging and platonic forms of affection are off the social map? To touch someone’s arm, or pat someone on the back, it seems as though there is an unwritten rule around what is ok to do?
Over the course of the next week I pondered about what would or could have a positive impact on lots of people? I knew I wanted to include some form of touch in my portfolio of positive psychological interventions and I was thinking about what would cross boundaries, how could I bring hugging to the masses? I searched ‘Free Hugs’ Juan Mann had started this in Australia, what a fabulous concept. I remembered Guerrilla Gardening and I love flash mob principles… it all began to come together. Exactly one week later I purchased some domain names and emailed Lord Layard, (enthusiastically misspelling guerrilla – hence we have guerrilla gorilla – which works for me) and asked him what he thought. I didn’t wait for a reply I began sourcing support and thinking about how to bring the concept into reality.
Word went out on linkedin, friends and colleagues put out feelers for web and brand designers. I asked friends with businesses if they would print, make contribute and was so fortunate to have an amazing group of people who happily offered their time, skills and energy to the project. Initially the idea was to promote small local, anyone can do this Guerrilla Hugs events, this is still the idea, there is no need for huge numbers, fanfares or trumpets, just hugs.
I was given support on the initial website build by Mike Clark, who has been a tremendous support! I then attended a website development course and met Scott Nicolson, as ever I cheekily asked if he would consider developing the Guerrilla Hugs website to which he agreed! I just love that there are so many good guys out there willing to help, who care and are amazingly creative. And in this parallel process a friend had recommended Prit Parmar at Morning Glory Studios to develop the logo for Guerrilla Hugs, again for free, no ego, friendly, talented, prompt and so helpful – the logo was born.
An email to greenwebhosting.net resulted in Paul offering to host the site for Guerrilla Hugs and support the project too! To this day I still don’t know what Paul’s voice sounds like! Everything has been agreed virtually!
So that we could give people something to take away with them to make them smile and remind them to hug someone I wanted to get some stickers and cards printed so I approached Fintan of FD-Signs, an old friend who I knew I could bribe if necessary with information I hold on him from the past, present and future, so we have professional printing from Fintan donated with a smile on his face ;0)
Photographers Steve McInerny and Caroline Rooke are our official event photographers and will be documenting Guerrilla’s Hugging as often as possible and maybe hug a few people!
My fellow MAPP students have been an incredible source of support and I am really looking forward to hugging them and others along the way!
Last, but not least, my son has invited his friends to join in, I have family and loved ones who want to be a part of this and I hope we can share the sense of generosity of spirit, willingness to take risks and the meaning of connectedness.
If you want to be a part of the Guerrilla Hugs Team please get in touch!