Sunday, June 27, 2010

FREE HUGS: The Most Important Thing In Life Is Free

More than any amount of healing agents in the world's confusions, sometimes all we really need is a hug. A hug to patch and mend some of our deepest wounds – war, terrorism, discrimination and disparity.

Where it all did began? Well, it all started with just a single hug, yeah a single hug! Then comes another, then another, then some more – and the 'worlds' become one soul in two bodies.

Free Hugs Campaign is a social action or movement with the involvement of different individuals offering free hugs to strangers in different places. Though, free hugs could be done by anybody else, either you're a stranger or a friend, a relative, or loved ones. Free Hugs was started by an Australian known by his pseudonym “Juan Mann.” Free Hugs started when Juan Mann was going back home with his luggage of clothes and troubles. “I'd been living in London when my world turned upside down and I'd had to come home. By the time my plane landed back in Sydney, all I had left was a carry on bag full of clothes and a world of troubles. No one to welcome me back, no place to call home. I was a tourist in my hometown,” Juan Mann started the story. Mann describes how he was so orphaned at that time. His face can only afford to witness friends and families with dangling smiles on their faces and wide arms opened hugging and laughing with each other. “...I wanted someone out there to be waiting for me. To be happy to see me. To smile at me. To hug me,” as he describes his lonely scenario at the terminal. He continued, “So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words "Free Hugs" on both sides.”

His initial action would seems so grotesque that he himself might notice as well. Nonetheless, he is as resolute as a hopeless romantic. His first move was crucial, pushing himself towards the crowd wondering what he really wants and what he really means. “And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person, who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling,” as he minced the first hug with a distress individual with him on the pedestrian. Before they parted ways, her smile seems to be a beaconing harbor that entices some others to come close to Mann and avail his free hugs.

There were much blithe in the place, ebbing out the gloomy atmosphere like the morning sun would do. In few more minutes that crowd was overwhelming. Everybody seems to feel what Mann has felt when he arrived at the terminal. They found themselves tossing up the cardboard and enveloping strangers with arms-wide and warm embraces. Man or woman, young or old, black or white, friend or stranger – they are altogether confined in a warm and heartwarming nook of this free hugging phenomenon.

This simple act of tenderness sparked and mushroomed world wide, so to say, like a consuming fire. But before anything else gets official, Free Hugs was actually banned on October of 2004 by authorities for some other perhaps, lawful reasons. But who would dare stop a human heart's hunger for affection and warm fondle? I guess nobody does, not even the guards. Highly technological connectivity seems to alienate personal ones, but not anymore. The 10, 000 petitions and signs garnered by Juan Mann has been an objective evidence of those hungry hearts and the campaign to move on. Free Hugs was allowed to continue without strings attached from any sectors charging them of public liability and red tape.

June 30, 2004, Juan Mann formally gives regular free hugs in the Pitt St. Mall in central Sydney, where at this point he felt the most difficult and trying times of his life, if not only for a hug or two.

The dawn of the Free Hugs campaign was beginning to take toll in Australia but was heralded further through its video plug at YouTube, courtesy of the Band Sick Puppies. When Mann's grandmother died, the band gave him a music video to console him; the video later became famous at YouTube. The video contains the Free Hugs theme “All The Same” by Shimon Moore of Sick Puppies after Juan Mann befriended and welcomed him into the Free Hug folds.

Mann's advocacy did not miss Oprah Winfrey's show scope. On October 30, 2006 Mann was invited by Oprah for an hour of show. Obviously, the show is over even before it has started. Mann offers free hugs to the audiences outside the studio eager to see the show.

Juan Mann continued his spirited effort through on mostly web mediums. He has his e-book “The Illustrated Guide To Free Hugs” available for free download. He also hosts an on-line chat for those who wish for some conversation with him. Nonetheless, on August 23, 2009, through his Facebook he announced that he is “retiring” relieving himself of any rights regarding the Free Hugs concepts including the funds. He knows that the torch of the movement he started will keep burning even without him holding the baton. His predecessor will assume the same responsibilities he has undergone.

Juan Mann declared that the day would fall on the first Saturday following June 30 annually; this is in connection to the first date where he offered his free hugs in Pitt Street Mall in Sydney in 2004. Nonetheless, the First International Free Hugs Day was July 7, 2007, then the next year was July 5, 2008 and in 2009 it was held July 4.

Free Hugs spawn and scattered like a wild infectious disease to infect lonely spirits around the world. A college student, Yu Tzu-Wei began a campaign in Taipei to “hug everyone in Taiwan.” In 2006, Free Hugs campaign started in Tel Aviv, Israel. And so on in Colorado, Italy, China, Ireland, Korea and still counting on.

In France, to ease out discrimination with those infected with AIDsS or HIV, Free Hugs has been advocated by the French Government

I've been into this hugging spree for quit sometime when me and my relatives attended a charismatic gathering one Sunday. The atmosphere was filled with radiance at that time. It's overwhelming. It's like strangers were peeled off from the scene and all are one in friendly harmony. I hugged one, two, three and more. It's such a heartwarming experience, I don't feel shy. It doesn't matter if your young or old tall or short (though one man bent over me), man or woman – everybody seems to have familiar faces with such kind of experience.

Free Hugs campaign has been embraced by lots of individuals around the globe, either secular or religious. It is welcomed with the warmest embrace not because it is some sort of other political or collective movements, but because it isn't just a hug, it is the unity of everyone's soul. It is the longings of the severed spiritual connectivity and oneness of every human enterprise. After all, when all else are in confusion, all we really need is a “Free Hug” to understand and to be understood.


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