Hugs, Your Space, and the New World Order

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Hugs, Your Space, and the New World Order


Like bolts from the blue, less than a month before the expected announcement of his Presidential plans, former VP Joe Biden, who has been in the national spotlight for nearly fifty years, and under the watchful eyes of a U.S. Secret Service detail for the last decade, is beset by allegations that several years ago he “inappropriately touched” or “violated the space” of a small but growing list of women.

For the record, I don’t doubt the claims of the women involved, at least the two we’ve heard from thus far, or Mr. Biden’s recollection of events, together with his pledge to “be more mindful about respecting personal space.” Yet, I’m given to wonder if we were not in the midst of a federal election campaign in which he is a likely candidate, would anything have been said at all?

Having met Mr. Biden, I can vouch for the fact that, as an old-school politician, he is warm, effusive, spontaneous, and prone to grip, grin, and embrace, regardless of age, race, or gender. If he is an offender, he is of the equal opportunity variety. VP Biden is, after all, the one who congratulated President Barack Obama on global television with a hug and the comment (about the passage of the Affordable Care Act), “This is a big f***ing deal!”

So What?

  1. As a grandparent of three granddaughters, I certainly want them protected, both now and upon reaching adult status, from creeps who might harm them or use power against them for corrupt purposes. Yet, I hope that doesn’t mean they have to grow up in a nation that is so antiseptic and bereft of warmth that a well meaning friend, teacher, neighbor, coach, pastor, or boss has to think twice about putting his (or her) arm around them or giving them a hug. They’ve been well taught, and I’m betting they can fend for themselves.
  2. As an executive coach who works hard to see more women advance into meaningful leadership roles, I worry that the ascendance of talented, deserving women is being retarded by male execs who are beginning to be afraid to be in a room alone with a female contemporary, let alone travel with her on business. Yes, I know that flies in the face of some miscreants who got entirely too comfortable with coworkers, but they are a distinct minority. Though I don’t yet see that fear as rational, it is nonetheless real, and present today. In too many cases, the tie is going to the guy in competitive situations for this reason alone, and that’s the last thing we need.

Now What?

In sorting out how to handle such situations in our own lives we should ask ourselves: Is this a common variety irritation to my senses, or is it something truly special, i.e., an assault on my person or senses? To keep things in perspective, let’s bear in mind that, with varying degrees of injury or annoyance, our space is violated just about every day:

  • By food service workers who cough or sneeze in our direction without covering up
  • By someone who sits in a crowded space participating in a phone call, or watching a YouTube video on their cellphone sans earbuds
  • By retail “security” personnel who think we’ve stolen some tomatoes or a roasted chicken as we go thru the self-checkout
  • By the woman who opens a bottle of fingernail polish remover in a crowded subway car
  • By the TSA agent who patted you down not because they needed to, but because they could

Practically speaking, we’ve got two options in such circumstances: Say (or do) something right then and there to alter the behavior, or remove ourselves from it. Or, press DELETE and get on with life. Our response time ought not be years as it has been with Mr. Biden’s detractors, but something closer to the “5-second rule” that some apply to food spillage that hits the floor.

It helps to say something that is clear, yet “assumes positive intent” (thank you Indra Nooyi) on the other person’s part, e.g., “I’m going to write this incident off as an accident… this time. Let’s both make sure it doesn’t happen again.” I try to operate with a simple test in such cases, asking myself if: Six months from now, is anybody going to remember or care? If the answer is “no”, I drop the matter, and drop means drop.

SAVE AS really isn’t an option unless you’re willing to let the behavior accrete. Collecting grievances to carry around with us for future use may play well in reality TV shows, but not for adults in real life. We’ve got far greater things to concern ourselves with… opportunities to seize, and problems to starve.

Going forward, I’ll show some of my better behavior if you will do the same. Let’s get on with it.

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