There were thousands of teenage boys and girls. Most of them were holding a message in their hand, or a sign they had prepared beforehand. Some of them were holding nothing but a slip of paper written in a hurry. All of them read “Free hugs”. This social initiative had been born in Sydney, Australia, in 2014 and later spread to many other cities around the world; in Italy, this flashmob became a huge success during Romics 2016, a famous comic book festival held in Rome.
There is nothing “dirty” or suspicious about it. These young people are simply trying to recover the elements that distinguish the noblest part of human relations: an embrace, which reveals participation, transmits emotions, and shows people that they are welcome.
I think it is proper to ask ourselves why thousands of “nerds” felt they needed a hug, not to catch the latest and most coveted Pokemon. A generation that transformed immateriality into its existential core – smartphones, digital messages, WhatsApp, etc. – is now trying to backtrack. Perhaps unconsciously, just for fun – as it should be at that age – but with a striking determination. Romics lasted a few days, all day long. Tens of thousands of teenagers came to Fiera di Roma, to hug, smile, at and greet each other. Then everyone resumed their normal life.
Adults do not have to make the mistake of smiling, thinking it is simply a fashion, a way to spend afternoons. There is something deep in looking for a hug: this is what we do when we are down, when we feel alone, when we are afraid. That is when an embrace becomes a therapy, miraculous. If a generation chose this direction, it has to mean something.
It is up to us, the adults, to intercept this need, maybe even rediscover it. Not only towards our own children, too often relegated to a quick greeting, but also among adults themselves, among people who love each other and who often forget to give voice to their feelings.
Once again, we have to learn a lesson from our children. Maybe – with some rhetoric – if we embraced each other more often, the rate of interpersonal violence, and maybe even world wars would weaken.