Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Touch -- a gift of life

To touch can be to give life. Michelangelo
In a homeless shelter, touch is something staff and volunteers are discouraged from sharing. There are professional boundaries to consider. Hygiene. Propriety. And people whose boundaries are so thinly guarded, they might misconstrue a simple touch as an invitation for more. There are a hundred and one reasons not to touch the clients, but, I wonder...

In a recent article published in Yes! , Hands-on Research: The Science of Touch. How everyday forms of touch can bring us emotional balance and better health. Author, Dacher Keltner, makes the case for increasing touch -- not just for babies, but for everyone. It's not just a touchy-feelie thing to do. Touch improves health, well-being. It helps make the world go round in smoother ways, wearing down the bumps and grinds of fate so that we can roll smoothly, all wheels connected, to the road of life.

Which got me thinking, if babies wither from lack of touch, and touch is not something that goes away, maybe, the people we serve at the shelter would thrive if we increased touch...

It isn't about hugging, it's about touching hands, an arm, a shoulder. It's about acknowledging someone's presence through a physical touch that doesn't have to be 'full-body' contact. And in a place where most feel invisible, acknowledging presence can be a gift. Seeing someone -- and letting them know through a gentle touch that you see them, can spark a life into renewed presence, renewed spirited living.

I remember a study I read about years ago where they secretly filmed a phone-booth (you know it's an old study because phone-booths are almost relics of the past-- especially with a slot for coins). In the study, researchers left a quarter in the coin slot. When someone came out of the booth, someone approached them and asked, "Did you find my quarter in the slot?"

When no touch was involved, most respondents said no.

When the researcher touched their forearm, the likelihood of the respondent passing over the quarter increased exponentially (it was a long time ago and I don't remember the stat -- but it was high).

It's all about human connection.

And touch connects us.

So... my challenge for today -- touch someone -- on the arm, the hand, the shoulder, (and no, I didn't say grope them). Touch them while you chat. While you walk together down a hallway, while you stop at their cubicle to pass along a piece of information.

Enrich every encounter with the spirit of gentle touch -- and see what happens.

And to inspire you, here's an animated video of economist Jeremy Rifkin's model for building an Empathetic Civilisation. I posted this one some months ago -- but all these RSA animations are worth watching again and again -- and this one's filled with brilliant thinking.



Maureen said...

There was an article in the weekend papers about children being taught how to massage their ill elderly parents' feet, and how that kind of touch was restorative.

Thought-provoking post!

P.S. Thank you for visiting Red Lion Sq. and listening to the reading of my poem. (I neglected to tell them how to pronounce my name but who cares. It was a delight for me when my poem was accepted.)

Anonymous said...

all volunteers are said these things, just like you feel i too feel the same way.

i broke that norm and dont regret it. i cant imagine serving someone without touching them.

Anonymous said...

touch truly is life.