Saturday, December 18, 2010

Being Touched By Strangers

I've blogged a few times before about Random Acts of Kindness. I think the idea of kindness and "paying it forward" are wonderful ways to make our world a better place.

I'm especially touched when someone who doesn't really know me is kind to me. In the many fund-raising events I've done, it's so awesome when I get a donation from someone I don't really know -- maybe someone who I've just stumbled across thanks to social media. I put those kinds of people -- people who are just genuinely kind -- in a special class. I really respect their generosity. More than once, that kind of generosity has led to a treasured friendship. In fact, I got to know Craig, who I've blogged about so often, because, even though he didn't know me, he volunteered to help me at a Light the Night fundraising event for Leukemia. I got to know my friend, David, because he sent in a donation when I was fundraising for Leukemia. I only knew him as a "virtual" friend from a social networking site, but he has been one of the most generous and supportive friends I've ever had. It's those kind of people who I admire beyond words.

However, since my Cuddle Party post, I've been thinking a little more about boundaries when it comes to intimacy with strangers. Physically touching someone you don't know may be too much. At the very least it can seem disingenuous. Without having emotional intimacy, physical intimacy just seems inappropriate.

In this latest video from RAK, there's a woman who high-five's strangers and another one who sings "You are my Sunshine" to strangers. Another guy gives out flowers... giving two: one to keep and one to give to someone else. I know that when people on the sidelines of a race high-five me or cheer for me, I feel so wonderful and supported! It's awesome that strangers take the time to do that! is a little different if they don't really know you at all. Even the people on the sidelines at the marathon at least know I'm running a race so they are showing their support and that is so cool. But, I have to admit, I'd find it a little odd for a stranger on the street to offer up a hand looking for a high-five. I'd be thinking, "Did I just do something great that I don't know about?" or "Am I supposed to know this person?"

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking the video or it's intentions. It's beautiful and sweet and I'm convinced that showing kindness randomly will absolutely make the world a better place. But while getting a a high-five, song, or a flower from a stranger would make me feel happy, I know the givers are doing it because they are kind, not because I am anyone special to them. And that's perhaps why "cuddling" or even hugging, now that I think about it, doesn't really seem appropriate. I don't think I'd get comfort getting a hug from someone who doesn't know me at all.

On the other hand, when a person doesn't know you personally, but has been exposed to you and what you might be going through, it can be very special. For example, at Craig's funeral, I felt such comfort in hugging and crying with his friends and family. It was a common grief for a man we all loved that bonded us, even though we were strangers.

Sometimes I'll get a kind response to a blog post or I'll get a nice email from someone who has read The Laptop Dancer Diaries. I get really excited to get emails from strangers because I know the person isn't just "being nice" because they're my friend. They are responding to something I wrote, so I feel like they know that part of me and I am so grateful when they share a little piece of themselves back with me. It's a little bit of intimacy... a shared bond of understanding that may or may not lead to a friendship. But for that moment, anyway, it feels wonderful.

But do we really want to be touched by someone who doesn't know us at all? Well... I'm not as crazy about the whole "Free Hugs" movement as I used to be. I don't have anything against it, but I can understand now why it might be a little off-putting. I think I'll save the high-fives and hugs with strangers for times when I at least know the recipient is publicly celebrating or in need of support. And cuddling? Definitely overstepping my boundaries.

However being kind without touching is easy... There's a huge virtual world out there of people who'd love to get a comment on their blog of shared understanding. There are millions of people who would love to get a genuine smile from a stranger. You can touch someone very deeply without "touching" them at all.


Popo said...

Oh man! So you're saying you'd leave a poor stranger hanging when he or she is in need of a high or even a low 5?!? If I saw someone with the 5 fingers + palm at the ready, and looked into their eyes and saw the excited desperation of some "skin", I'd be happy to oblige them in a show of support of to my fellow man/woman. Otherwise, forget it. I ain't touchin 'em...

Yvette Francino said...

Popo, you know I'd never leave the stranger hanging! I'd just think they were in need of glasses and getting me confused with someone else, but I'd go ahead and accept their hand slap.

This reminds me of the many times I've waved at strangers because of my poor eyesight. They usually look over their shoulders to see if I'm waving at someone else at which point I realize I'm waving at a stranger. It is rather embarrassing, but now that I know that people high-five strangers as a sign of kindness, I'll just consider my blind waves to the wrong people an act of kindness, too.

David Foster said...

See the second comment on this post.

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