I recently came across a blog entry by Sean Carroll on Discover Magazine titled “I’m Too Smart To Understand Human Beings”, describing a practice at Mensa meetings where people put different colored stickers on their badges indicating whether they like to be hugged or not. The original post detailing the meeting and the system came from Jen McCreight’s Blog Hag blog, detailing her experience as a speaker at a Mensa meeting (very cool – you should read it).
The gist of the system is:
Green = Hug me!
Yellow = Ask me first, please
Red = Don’t touch me!
The discussion that came in the comments (ahh, comments sections on the internet, the place one should never stop to read unless one feels like being offended, hurt, and pissed off) condoned the folks at Mensa for “not being able to understand their fellow human beings” and claimed that hugs with strangers are completely inappropriate regardless of situation.
However, I must say I rather like the system. It removes ambiguity. There are lots of people in the world, and not nearly enough hugs. Ask anyone who’s stood on a corner with a “free hugs” sign whether they felt better after an afternoon of hugging. The answer is nearly always affirmative. Hugging releases endorphins and makes the world a better place, and why shouldn’t people who are often sorely lacking in hugs in their day-to-day lives be deprived of them in a situation where there are lots of other hug-deprived people looking for hugs?
Most people go around assuming that everyone is a “red”, when in fact there are “yellows” and “greens” in their lives too. So in fact, I think that the sticker system is just the opposite of “too smart to understand human beings” – I think it’s so smart that we understand that most people make an assumption about, and we want to challenge that assumption.
Whoever said that those of us with social “disabilities” can’t understand our fellow human beings? I think that is absolute crap. I’ve spent my entire life cataloguing every single interpersonal interaction that I’ve seen or been a part of, so that I could better understand how to interact with people. The stickers simply simplify that process. (Why did she just get mad at him for hugging her? Oh, she’s wearing a red sticker, she doesn’t like hugs.) There’s no guesswork involved.
Of course, it’s not just Mensa where people get together, feel a sense of community, and want to hug each other. I have spent a fair amount of time with the LGBT community, and there hugs are rampant. The assumption is that everyone is a “green”, and if you get startled by a single hug, then you’re labeled immediately as a “red” and often treated badly because of it.
I’m a yellow. I actually really like hugs sometimes, but only if you ask me first, and only in certain situations. I don’t like being surprised by a hug (ESPECIALLY not from behind) and it has to be on my terms. Surprise hugs often lead to major shut downs. I’ve always liked small spaces, and hugs can be incredibly comforting in a situation where there’s not a small space for me to be. And most importantly, I like to be able to refuse hugs if I’m overwhelmed or just don’t want a hug at that moment or from that person. I guess most of the time I’m a red “don’t touch me!” but for the times when I’m not, I like the idea of a yellow sticker “ask me first and please don’t be offended if I say no”. Ask me, and it removes the ambiguity. And a surprising amount of the time (maybe 1 in 5-8 inquiries) the answer is “yes, I’d love a hug”.
So where do you stand on hugs? I’ve always wondered how other members of the Autism community feel about hugging and being hugged. Are you a green? Yellow? Red? Is it situation dependent? What do you think of the sticker system? Are we “too smart to understand human beings”? Or as I like to think, are we smarter than normal human beings because the system paves the way for more positive human interactions that would otherwise be assumed un-wanted?
p.s. “health” update for anyone who cares… I’m still miserably sick. I’ve now lost 10 pounds (the rate of loss is slowing down, though!) and will hopefully manage to gain some of that weight back soon. I don’t even really have enough energy to be bored. Sleep, eat, sleep, eat, try to work, sleep. Being sick is sensory hell. It’s mental hell. I’ve had this post mostly written for weeks, and I’m curious about the hug issue. Especially since at the moment, I can’t decide whether I am in desperate need of a hug or whether I can’t deal with any physical human contact at all. *sigh*