When did machines replace humans as the place to go to for touch? We live in such a sterile environment in North Americ
a. We are told to use antibacterial soap, which has contributed to super bugs. We are told not to touch, which has contributed to a lack of connection between people. Why do you think a ‘touch pad,phone or device is so desirable? …because people long to touch … and be touched. However, machines cannot replace human contact.
I remember when I was a kid at school and falling and hurting my knee, a teacher gave me a hug, rubbed my knee and held my hand as he walked me, sobbing to the sink to clean off the dirt. The touch was soothing, comforting and calmed me down in a way that words would not.
There were an outrageous number of child molestations going on in “the good old days”. And there was an even greater amount of healthy, caring non-sexualized touch. This is the lost art of human connection.
Science is finally supporting the health and wealth benefits of touch. A few seconds of friendly contact releases oxytocin, decreases cortisol and impacts the vagus nerve. What does this do? Reduces feelings of stress and anxiety because of lowered heart and breathing rates. This generates feelings of trust and bonding. (1) How sweet and easy is that? Wealth also can increase: if waiters made physical contact with the people at their table, the amount of tips increased. (2)
In Psychology Today, Ray Williams identifies several reasons we need to increase touch: it decreases violence and disease, strengthens the immune system, improves team dynamics, increases non sexual emotional intimacy and learning engagement. (3)
I have travelled a great deal and discovered that other countries do touch, we could learn from them. People in the Mediterranean, Central and South America hold hands, put arms around each other’s shoulders, touch faces, or have a hand on a leg or arm whilst talking. Initially it was a shock to experience, however I soon grew to love the warm greetings and close engagement with relative strangers. The stories exchanged were happy, loving, exciting, sad … and not sexual.
Not that there isn’t a place for sexual touch – there is and it can be wonderful. It is simply that not all touch is sexual or has sexual intention. Intention is important because we understand the emotional message behind touch. Hertenstein did an experiment to deepen the knowledge that people’s emotions are interpreted based on facial expression and body language. Tactile communication had not been investigated, prior to his work. The study concluded that people do communicate clearly through touch. (4)
Human touch is many things: caring, supportive, encouraging…. Try it out with yourself and/or someone else this week. Use your hands and connect to the world through touch. If you feel anxious or nervous, rub your hands together. Say hello and shake someone’s hand. Flu season be damned! The next time you are on the bus, allow your leg, shoulder or hand to sit naturally and relaxed while resting against the person beside you. While talking, reach out and touch the person you are speaking to. Hug a friend or family member and hold on for five seconds! Let yourself experience a world where touch is subtle form of connection and communication.
How different could your life be if you allow yourself to simply touch and be touched.
(1) NPR News
(2,3) Psychology Today:
(4) The Communication of Emotion Via Touch [http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~keltner/publications/hertenstein.2009.pdf]