Once upon a time I lived for years in a spiritual community in India. Most of the people there were in their twenties and thirties. Hugging was the most common way to greet each other. When you hug hundreds of people, both men and women, for years, you learn a lot about each person from the way they hug.
Are they tentative, enthusiastic, sensitive, perfunctory, present or absent? Do they lean in and wrap their arms around you? Do they keep their pelvis well back from the encounter? Do they linger or break off quickly? Is their touch light as a leaf or solid like a bear’s? As you hug more and more, you start to get quick reads on people’s attitude to life: you see how they feel about themselves and how they usually interact with others. Sometimes you feel recharged from a hug and sometimes you feel as if something was taken from you. There are givers and there are takers. There are those who are playful and those who want to give you all their pain.
Today I started to look at our Presidential candidates through the lens of hugging. How would it feel to hug each of them? If you tune in to all that you have seen them do and say, you (or at least, I) get an instinctive sense of how each of them would hug. Let’s imagine a simple scenario where you walk into a living room with only two or three people present whom you already know, and you are introduced to…
Donald Trump. He is the easiest to read. Poor Donald does not like to be touched. I’m not making this up. It’s well known. He tolerates shaking hands because he has to do that these days as a political candidate. But he or an aide carries a hand sanitizer spray that he uses frequently. He has a thing about germs, you see. So poor Donald is not a hugger – unless you are perhaps Miss Bolivia or a starlet, or high-fashion model. If you are, Donald will probably enjoy the hug. If you are not a pretty young woman, you might get a pat on the back or a nod of the head.
Bernie Sanders. Bernie is a sweetheart. But he is not connected to his body very much. He lives from the head, and expresses from the heart. His body is just the vehicle to carry his head and heart around. He has a bony, wiry physique. When Bernie hugs you, he bends over and leans in so that you mainly contact his shoulders. He puts his hands a little awkwardly on your upper arms or pats your back two or three times. It’s all over in about four seconds. Then he’s ready to tell you more about corruption in big banks. He likes to look you in the eyes. And he does not notice particularly if you are a man or a woman.
Hillary Clinton. She is the hardest to fathom. She does immediately respond differently if you are a woman or if you are a man. With women she is touchy-feely. She will give you what feels like an affectionate squeeze, and she’ll speak while she is hugging you – a few words of compliment or a phrase to bond with you. This isn’t fake. She is at ease and knows she can find a way to identify with you as a mother, or single parent, or girl, or successful person.
If you are a man, she’ll probably not hug you but give you a warm handshake where she puts both her hands around your hand. She’ll hold the contact for a few beats to emphasize she sees you as a person, and she will also utter a few words to create what feels like a personal connection. She is much more cautious in touching men. She has had to live and succeed in a man-dominated world for so long that she has learned to be more reserved and formal if she wants to be viewed as an equal.
This is the kind of male-centered setting she has had to work in – here, in the White house Situation Room, waiting to learn if Osama Bin Laden had been captured or killed .
But when she meets a woman, there’s a very different look.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Donald Trump hugs Sarah Palin. Read the body language.