Protocol and the human touch

A high Mata Amrita Index is like the mythical shepherd-boy crying “wolf”, and devalues the hug.

Recently I was discussing my recent blogpost on the Mata Amrita Index with the wife. Rather, when I had written the blog post, I had expected a response from her, and when none was forthcoming, I mentioned the post to her while talking to her and asked what she thought about it.

Now, before we proceed, I must mention that the wife considers herself to be an expert on relationships (she fancies herself as a “Marriage Broker Auntie“), and on hugging. In fact, if I remember right, one of our earliest intellectual conversations (way long back) was on what different kind of hugs mean in terms of the relationship between the huggers. This conversation had caused some confusion between us the first time we met, regarding protocol, and I had been later told that I had broken protocol.

So given that she’s a domain expert on the subject of hugging, and has a Mata Amrita Index which I think is on the upswing, I asked the wife what she thought about my post on enhancement of the Mata Amrita Index. I somehow expected a “very nice analysis” kind of comment from her, but she chided me. It was wrong that I had looked at something as “sacred” as a hug between two people as a protocol, she said. She went on to say that you hug someone if and only if you feel affectionate towards that person, and that every time I was faced with a question on whether to hug (this is going into Gandhiji’s Talisman territory here), I should ask myself if I feel affectionate, and if I do, go ahead an offer a hug!

So sometime last week I was thinking about this, and was thinking about this one person I know who has an extremely high Mata Amrita Index. Thinking about it, I realised how mechanical our greetings had become, and that though we hug every time we meet (sometimes twice – once when we meet, and once when we par), it has become so ingrained in protocol that it effectively means nothing!

The wife also told me about how the “cheek-peck” has gone the same way in her college. The cheek peck, also known as air kiss, is a weird form of greeting practiced in Western Europe, and which was reportedly invented so that you don’t leave lipstick marks on one another’s cheeks, as you would with a normal peck (the cheek peck is a common woman-woman and man-woman greeting. It’s seldom used between two men). To cheek peck, you touch your cheeks to each other (right cheek to right cheek or left cheek to left cheek) and then kiss the air in front of your lips, thus making a kissing sound! And since you’re leaning, for balance, you hold on to each other, perhaps at the shoulders.

Now, I’m told that the standard convention is that it’s not done every time you meet someone – you cheek peck only once in a while, or when at least one of the parties feels affection towards the other. In the wife’s college, on the other hand, it has reportedly become protocol and you almost have NC2 (N choose 2) cheek pecks every day, since the largely international student body has misunderstood it to be a protocol, while the Spanish themselves hardly cheek peck. So the wife argues that though she ends up touching plenty of shoulders and cheeks every day, it is done so much as part of protocol that it doesn’t count for human touch at all!

So the basic funda is this – when you elevate (or perhaps reduce) a particular form of greeting to protocol, you run the risk of devaluing the effect of the protocol. It is effectively like the shepherd boy crying “wolf”. If we have an unwritten protocol that we hug every time we meet, then soon our hug starts becoming meaningless, and does nothing to bring us closer (metaphorically that is), while a hug is intended to do that! If either of us feels affection towards the other, the hug is no more an instrument that can be used to express it! And restricting our discussion to non-romantic relationships, it becomes extremely difficult to find a means of affection-appreciation superior to the hug, and it becomes an unexpressable emotion!

On the other hand, if there is someone who you don’t hug as part  of protocol, but only do so when one of you feels affection towards the other, the hug retains value, and the touch thus introduced can work its magic (again note that we’re strictly leaving out romantic relationships from our discussion)!

So if you have a high Mata Amrita Index, it is actually not such a good thing, since it removes the hug as a means of conveying real human touch! I’m in full-on admiration to the wife right now for coming up with this theory! And since we’re leaving out romantic relationships out of this discussion, I’m not telling you how I’ll express my appreciation to her!

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