“Hugging, shaking hands and kissing are things of the past.” And with those words; President Cyril Ramaphosa opened up the proverbial can of worms.
It was the nudge I needed to write this post. These thoughts have been swirling around in my head since the start of the lockdown. I’m sceptical because it’s a sensitive topic and one that I feel very strongly about… but let me speak my truth.
Before the outbreak of coronavirus, I was all for adults hugging, shaking hands and kissing on the cheeks, if they so desire. These are adults, who have a choice and a say in their personal space. However, I have always drawn the line when it comes to infants and children because it’s often forced upon them and sadly, normalised.
It all comes down to proxemics, as my fellow journalists and others in the communications field can attest to. Proxemics is the study of space; how we use it and how it makes us feel more or less comfortable. Naturally, you would only allow people you are comfortable with and have a good relationship with into your personal space. And if someone who isn’t within your circle does that, you would feel irritated or anxious.
That’s what infants and toddlers have sadly been subjected to. No! It is not normal to pinch a child’s cheeks or insist that they hug you or allow you to leave a wet kiss on their cheek. But, it has been happening and it’s become almost culturally acceptable that this is the way things ought to be. I have heard adults ask for a child by name, say that they were not greeted by them and they must be summoned for hugs and kisses. I have tried to protest – only to be stopped midway and be told – “Leave them, don’t make them upset. ”
Well, sorry. That’s not going to work anymore. I will protest. There has to be an understanding that such behaviour does not have a place in our society anymore. By saying that I am not being disrespectful; I am being careful. How can we continue to turn a blind eye despite the great publicity given to the horrible consequences of for example someone with cold sores kissing a baby?
I lived through these fears while my son, who is now nine, was growing up. As a toddler with OCD tendencies, he would voice his disdain if anyone planted a wet kiss on his cheek with the word – Sies! I would be left red-faced in public but secretly wish they would get his not-so-subtle message. As he grew older, he learnt the art of the traditional Hindu way of greeting and it was also something I coaxed him into doing at any social gathering in a bid to avoid that wet kiss. So, with his hands and palms together, his head slightly lowered and a smile on his face, he would greet everyone with NAMASTE. Thankfully, that’s been the norm for some time. And, it will be the norm going forward too.
Let us not underestimate the role that we as adults have to play in re-inforcing key messages to stop the spread of coronavirus. Infants expect us to be their protectors and children mirror our behaviour; more so now; as many facets of our lives have changed. We cannot let our guards down. It’s masks on and hands-off!