1. Compliment appropriately
An older man recently told me that “men just can’t compliment women anymore!” and framed it in such a way that it was meant to be seen as a shame. That’s not true. It is true that everyone should be aware of how we comment on other people. Remarking on another person’s body is tricky. It can come across as creepy to fixate on a body part or a person’s weight gain or loss. These are sensitive subjects and can cause another person to feel ashamed, insulted or embarrassed. The same goes for children when we say things like, “You’re so pretty!” or “You’re so handsome!” I encourage us to think of other ways to compliment people. What about telling people they look well, happy, smart or energetic? Looks aren’t everything. You most certainly can compliment, just in a wise way.
2. Always ask before a hug
Not everyone is a hugger, and that’s OK! There are many other ways to greet someone and/or show affection. Fist bumps, waves, high fives, hand squeezes, a handshake … get creative! Always ask before giving a hug. And while, “May I hug you?” may feel silly at first, I promise it gets easier. Also, remember that a lot of our greetings and demonstrations of affection are culturally grounded. It’s important to be aware of that. It’s important to respect others’ boundaries.
3. No means no, and it’s not an insult
If someone doesn’t want a hug, doesn’t feel like talking with you or asks you to leave them alone, no means no! It’s easy to take such things as an insult. I’ve had emotionally intelligent people become insulted when I didn’t want to be touched by them or interact with them. Sure, it can feel awkward, but not everything is necessarily about your gestures and offers. No one (myself included) is owed anything for kindness or friendship. If someone declines a gesture of yours, respect it. Take it as a sign that you’re allowed to reinforce your own boundaries, too.
4. Be aware of who is in the room
Safe Church policies tell us there should always be two adults in the room when children are present, for their safety. The same can go for any person who might feel vulnerable. Many women and nonbinary folks have their own policy in place to never meet with someone of another gender alone. Some men do, as well. If you’re about to have a serious or sensitive conversation, be aware of who is in the room. If you are alone, is there a window so someone can see in?
5. Tell someone!
If you feel someone is targeting you, stalking you or behaving inappropriately toward you, it can be scary to speak up, but please do! I have had trouble with this myself, and so if you see inappropriate behavior happening to another person, speak up on their behalf! Tell a pastor, parent, teacher, guardian, friend, anyone who you think can listen well and help. If you’re not being heard, there are agencies and authorities in your community that can help. If this is happening in a church setting and you do not feel heard, reach out to a conference minister.
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