Free hugs, family and #GivingTuesday

I was walking down the local mall with my three year-old, she spots a couple of teenagers waving signs around and obviously trying to grab the attention of shoppers. “What are they doing, Dad?” she asks. Knowing she’ll be asking for the rest of my day if I don’t find out, we walked a little closer to see what was going on.

As we neared them, I read two familiar words that had started a movement I thought was over years ago — FREE HUGS.

In 2006, a video was published on YouTube that told the story of a man who went out to a busy areas in Sydney, Australia to offer people hugs, for free. An effort by the local council to ban his activity saw 10,000 people sign a petition to allow him, and others to keep giving out Free Hugs. While the video finishes after 3 minutes and 40 seconds, the story continued (and still continues!) with people taking to streets and malls around the world with Free Hugs signs.

Now, 74.5 million views is nothing to sneeze at, but what’s fascinating is that people are still taking giving away hugs, 7 years later with daily videos being posted from people taking on the campaign. In a digital world where “viral” campaigns seem to come and go at the blink of an eye, people taking action on a video years later is phenomenal.

So, back at home, with my daughter on my lap, we watched the video that had started it all to work out what it was that made this movement stick. Was it its simplicity? Was it the message? Was it the story? Well, maybe it was partly to do with all of these things. But for me, there’s a significant point in the video that stands out.

It’s the moment when Juan Mann, the person featured in the video, stops and gives the sign to someone else and lets them express the idea in their own way.

As a parent, I’m often wondering what my kids will inherit from me. The question for me is less about possessions and more about values, ideas and an understanding of the world. What are the things worth giving to them to guide them as they grow older? What is it that matters? The challenge comes as we hurtle towards the end of the year, and it gets harder to avoid the bombardment of sales messages. Everywhere we look, there are messages telling us how we need to fill our lives with more “stuff” and that if we truly care for others, we’ll fill their life with more stuff too. But in the midst of it all there’s an idea that’s taking hold and it’s being driven by thousands of organisations, businesses, communities and families across the globe.

Like many movements, #GivingTuesday is simple in its idea — a day where everyone celebrates “giving back” and it’s simple to be involved. But most importantly, it can be shaped and molded and expressed in each person’s own unique way. We’re hearing stories and reading ideas coming from those who are participating and together, on 3 December, an exciting and vibrant day of giving will be shared across the globe.

In our family on December 3, #GivingTuesday will be about returning back to the question about why we give, not what we give. It’s a chance to shift the conversation from toy catalogues to talk how we show we care and love to those who matter to us and also to others in need. Now that’s an idea worth giving away.

This post was originally published on The Huffington Post as part of their support of #GivingTuesday. To see all the posts in the series, click here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.

Published by Ben Teoh

Hi! Ben Teoh here from Adelaide, South Australia. Come say hi at

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