Free Liberal

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No Smiling, No Hugging

by Paul Jacob

Things sure have changed since I was a kid. It used to be okay to smile. Encouraged even. And hugging someone was considered nice, friendly, compassionate.

Today, in my home state of Virginia, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV, is discouraging smiles. No, not just discouraging smiles, wiping them out entirely.

The DMV is telling people not to smile — or say “cheese” — when getting their photos taken for their drivers' licenses. If they do smile, the picture cannot go on their license and they have to take another.

And all over the country, public schools are banning hugging.

Why the official suppression of friendliness and good cheer?

Well, in schools the administrators apparently cannot tell a friendly hug from a sexual grope, or a jovial high-five from a bullying slap.

So they're outlawing all touching.

When I was in school, I don't remember any rules against hugging or holding hands or even kissing — unless folks got carried away. And we trusted teachers and principals to make the judgment as to what was going too far.

Now, any touching invites what one administrator calls a “gray area.”

The DMV may have a better excuse to suppress smiles and grins and such: They are developing facial recognition software, and smiles get in the way. It's all to protect us from identity theft, they say.

And yet isn't it odd that protecting us makes us less human? Can that really be protection?

Paul Jacob's "Common Sense" is published by the Citizens in Charge Foundation. Their website can be visited at