The deep heart cry is to have people who: really listen, are a safe place to be, love, accept without strings, and practice healthy touch. — Jerrolynn Hockenhull, Ed.D.
Notice the part about healthy touch. This is an often overlooked part of who we are. I have lived in multiple cultures. In every culture in which I have lived, touch is present as an important part of what it is to be human. [Now, I admit that I have not lived in every culture on Earth.] Sometimes that touch is a simple handshake when you meet. It is considered a polite custom, nevertheless it is a touch. [Yes, I know that there are cultures where people greet with a bow.] Yet, even with cultural variations (such as men never touching women) touch is an important part of being human. In fact, there is some evidence that touching is part of the universal human vocabulary.
Back in 2010, Psychology Today published an article, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/born-love/201003/touching-empathy, that reported on a study that showed that the mortality and morbidity rate was higher in orphanages were there was less touch involved. For you inevitable skeptics, there has been replication of that type of study. For those even more skeptic, yes, they eliminated other factors, such as the orphanages with negative results also having poor food, or other debilitating issues. As far back as the 1970s, some nurses and health providers were being told to “lay hands” on patients. Back then, various people labeled that as just part of the hippie decade. But, the years have shown the importance of touch in the life of people.
I think we have all experienced some of the truth of the need for touch. From earliest memories, we can remember wanting to hug a mother, father, or other important figure. Every culture has some form of “madonna” art, which shows a woman holding her baby in a loving way. One of the reasons we love massage is because it is a healing touch, when performed by an experienced individual. It is not surprising that Scripture enjoins us to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” Touching is important for a human being
At the same time, there is a caution. Notice that Dr. Hockenhull speaks of “healthy touch” while the Scripture writes of a “holy kiss.” Touch can be good or bad. The hands that beat, the hands that restrain, the hands that diminish can damage, sometimes even more than they can comfort or heal. Touch can be either good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, healing or damaging. Because of that, some have reacted against touch. There are many schools now in which the quick friendship touch of two friends is banned because of the fear of the damaging touch or the sexual touch. Thus, the healing of friendship is banned every bit as much as the public display of affection or the fighting of two hormonal teenagers. Rather than trying to discern, all touch is banned, to the detriment of the student body.
So, what is the answer? Well, there is no easy answer, is there? Both school administrators and human resource managers have a right to be cautious about touch. Frankly, they have gone to an extreme. But, this is the age of a conscientization about sexual harassment and microaggression. So, one cannot blame them for over-reacting to some of the extremism going on among those who are worried about harassment and microaggression. As with most “urgent” matters, there is usually a period of imbalance before balance is reached. Microagressions clearly exist. But, not every disagreement, difference of opinion, habit, or difference in taste is a microaggression. Not every touch in the workplace is an inappropriate touch by a coworker or an inappropriate exercise of power by an authority. But, now we are in a place in which balance has not been reached.
So, again, what is the answer? Well, I do not have one. But, we need to have safe ways to express touch. With those with whom we already feel safe, we need to learn how to properly express and greet them with a holy kiss. Please note that this does not mean that it must be a kiss. It can be the friendly hug, the firm handshake with a clear look into someone else’s eyes while smiling, the cheek kiss that is used in certain cultures, the touch that expresses connection with another human being. With my grandchildren that is a strong hug, while they giggle and are happy that grandfather is there. Meanwhile, I greet the grandmother from the other set of grandparents with a simple hello, a handshake, and a pat on the shoulder. In each case, I am expressing in an appropriate way that I care for them.
But, while I cannot give you an answer, I can encourage you. How can you express a healthy touch, or a holy kiss, toward those you meet? How can you fulfill the call to greet one another in a holy kiss? I leave the answer to you, as I suspect that it will vary a bit with each person, each personality, and each culture.