An epistemology of hugs

This blog post comes with an activity: please stop reading, step away from the screen, and go hug someone.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.


…Did you do it yet? No? I told you I’d wait. Go ahead.


Okay, welcome back. So, what did you learn about that person by giving him or her a hug? That your friendship wasn’t quite as close as you thought? Or that life is short and we ought to express affection for one another more often? Or maybe that you need to buy your friend a new stick of deodorant?

Or maybe this: I think that when you give someone a hug, you learn how tall they really are.

Think of it this way: if I tell you that I am 6’2″, you can do some interesting things with that information:

  • (6 * 12) + 2 = I am 72 inches tall
  • (10 * 12) = basketball hoops are 120 inches off the ground
  • (102 – 72) + (the diameter of a basketball) – (the length of my arm) = how high I would need to jump in order to dunk

Or maybe you could calculate my wingspan and measure how many of me it would take, fingertip to fingertip, to wrap around the world. Or stacked head to toe, how many of me it’d take to reach the moon.

But if you give me a hug, you’ll learn how tall I am in a different way: where your arms reach as we connect, if you need to stand on your toes, or if your head fits above or below my shoulder when we touch. It’s all too easy to dismiss the value of embodied knowledge; how many of you skipped the activity and figured you could piece it together if you just kept reading? You can do lots of things with the knowledge that I am 72″ tall, but you come to know it in a different way when you relate to it more personally.

And that’s the thesis of learning through making. I teach in a makerspace because I want to invite students to interact more intimately with their own developing understanding. I want students to know what it feels like to wrap their arms around an idea.


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