Ninety percent of all human communication takes place from the neck up. The remaining 10 percent consists mostly of body language below our collarbone, which includes our often-taken-for-granted contact through touch.
Is our tactile sense significant? Most of the recorded miracles that Jesus performed involved physical contact. He extended a comforting hand to touch people who were suffering and cured them. Of course, Christ could and did work wonders remotely. But, these “virtual” manifestations, no disrespect intended, were rare in comparison to the laying on of hands.
The very first “language” for a newborn is touch. Although we have no recollection of it, every one of us experienced a human touch as we came into this world. How important was this initial interaction if we cannot even remember it? Health experts at the Stanford Institute for Medicine have given us scientific proof that babies who experience skin-to-skin contact with their mothers within one hour after birth will enjoy improved heart rate, superior breathing regulation, better temperature stabilization, and they will cry less often. Such is the power of a human physical connection from the moment we begin to breathe.
Enter Covid-19 and the requirement for social distancing. Handshakes with a pat on the shoulder have disappeared. For those who are no longer working from home, the workplace can brag about establishing at least five “touchless” innovations that significantly reduce the spread of germs. These include movement sensors that open doors, lights and faucets, gesture perceptions that replace button pushing, facial ID cameras that remotely link colleagues to a meeting, personal devices that pay for lunches without having to exchange currency or credit cards with a cashier and voice identification software that allows employees to perform a host of tasks by simply talking to Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Apple’s Siri. While these and other hands-free technologies diminish contagion, they also threaten our human craving for that personal touch!
The pandemic has forced us to mask our smiles and avoid the physical and emotional bonds we need to strengthen our communion with others. But this can also raise our level of awareness. For example, have we been ignoring some of the gifts and talents God has given us which can foster unity in touchless ways? And for which of these many blessings, whether physical, emotional, intellectual, social or spiritual, will we be most grateful on Thanksgiving Day?
For Holy Homework: Sometime during this “Thanksgiving” month let’s approach at least one other person with an elbow pointing forward and ask, “How about an elbow shake?” And if this contact happens to tickle our funny bone, we can consider that an added bonus while we offer a prayer of thanks to God for the gift of human touch.
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