Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Full-on Smack on the Lips: The "Hi" Kiss

This morning I read the story about the Habitat for Humanity founder being fired for sexual misconduct. Habitat is a great organization and I think everyone recognizes that. But there were a couple of aspects of the article that tickled me and it is the issue of casual friendly hugs and kisses.

Apparently, sexual misconduct allegations were raised in the early 90s but were pushed aside at the urging of former Prez Jimmy Carter.

Carter also rose to Fuller's defense on the only previous occasion when sexual harassment charges against him became public. In 1990-91, five women who were current or former employees of Habitat told the board of directors that he had subjected them to unwanted sexual advances -- including kissing them on the mouth and touching their buttocks -- as well as vindictive behavior when he was rebuffed.

Here's what Carter had to say at the time in a letter to the board:

In the March 26, 1990, letter, Carter said he himself was given to physical displays of affection and appreciation, such as kisses on the cheek and hugs, to women he knew professionally and socially that were sometimes not welcomed. He wrote that he shook hands with several men and hugged and kissed several women at the dedication of the John F. Kennedy Library in 1979 and that the late president's widow had "visibly flinched" at his actions.

"Without minimizing in any way the significance of what has happened at Habitat, let me say quite frankly that I have had some similar kinds of relationships with some of my own female employees and associates. If one ever complained officially, there could be an avalanche of similar charges," Carter wrote in the letter, which Millard Fuller provided to The Washington Post.

Yikes! Kissing on the lips and touching of buttocks? or just kissing on the cheeks and hugging when clearly unwanted? Which sir?

Here's how the board saw the issue back in the 90s:

John Wieland, a Georgia developer who has built 26 houses for Habitat for Humanity and donated more than $500,000 to the organization, was on the board in 1990-91. "Our conclusion was that Millard was a hugger and was misinterpreted, and some people went out of their way to make something big out of something that wasn't really that big," he said.

I.e, "hugging"="kissing on the lips" and some "touching of buttocks"

I've known people who make a habit of saying hi to women, married or not, with full-on kiss on the lips. I've known were women spent many a minute trying to figure out how to go somewhere and avoid such a kiss.

I can see a kiss on the cheek, no biggie, but a full smooch on the lips I think is one of those things that one cannot assume is a highly esteemed, unversal value.

About people being "huggers" and absolutely needing to hug everyone, I fail to understand that. I do understand that many people are huggers, but what I don't get is the notion that one's personal desire to display affection by hugging would overcome the potential concerns of the huggee. If you need to hug someone that badly, it is possible that they may just as badly not need to be hugged by you at that time . We all have to pay attention to cues and the responsibility falls as much on the hugger to know that he is being . . . invasive.


Blogger Steve Bogner said...

Stuff like this seldom gets to the boiling point unless there is a good deal of truth in the allegations.

It's disappointing though, and I hope it doesn't tarnish all the Habitat affiliates out there who do good work, day-in and day-out.

8:25 AM  

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