Last night, I watched complete strangers (to me) hugging each other in the `Arrivals’ hall at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. I wondered about their relationships and friendships. How had these people met each other? Why did they feel so affectionately towards the other? Many, regardless of gender, were embracing so strongly, kissing and holding onto the other person in an exuberant welcome, as if fearful to let them go.
Giving human affection and warmth is critical to enabling another person to feel positive, valued and motivated. It is part of what makes us human, it is what separates us from animals. Hugging is something that Project Rome’s founders have done since the initiation of the project. In fact, showing kindness and compassion is at the heart of the initiative.
Homeless people and those living at the extreme end of poverty may not speak to another person for days, sometimes weeks. They may not have been hugged or touched in an affectionate way for weeks, months or even years. The lack of affection and human value a terrible blow to their self-worth.
I wondered, seeing all those hugs, how, why and when does the barrier fall. What is the difference someone who is hugged exuberantly, and someone who never feels affection from another? There’s no difference, in the sense that we are all human beings.
The reason is the `invisible line’. The line that is drawn when people struggle through adversity, such as divorce, or redundancy, or mental illness, or an inability to budget and afford a home. When the reality hits. When people slip beneath the invisible line when the sofa-surfing stops and the downward spiral starts. When washing face, hands and body becomes difficult, without a bathroom. When clean clothes are tricky to find, for those who live off hand-outs (both washed and unwashed) and there’s no washing machine on the street.
But that’s exactly when another person MOST needs human affection, emotional support, a hug. Yet we leave these people to struggle, we turn away from them. We alienate them physically by not looking them in the eye for fear they will ask us for something we can’t do, such as talk to them, smile at them, ask them how they are, or where they are from. Sometimes we’re worried they will ask us for money.
There are many degrees of affection between isolating someone emotionally and hugging them exuberantly. Project Rome simply aims to adjust the dial, so that we start to treat every human being with respect and a degree of affection. Maybe not a manly embrace, but a kind word, not a handful of loose change but a pair of clean socks, or a bag of toiletries.
In fact, Project Rome seeks to inspire people wherever they are, by showing how much small acts of love, kindness, and care can mean to a person in need. Please follow our lead, support us and together we will change the way society thinks.