Be Human. Be Touched.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Last week a friend directed me to an interesting article that had somehow escaped my attention. I'm grateful he sent it. Go on and read it, or at least scroll through the images, it'll only take a minute.

"Touching Strangers" is a beautiful concept. The photographer places two strangers in position where they are physically in contact with one another. They sit or stand and then he opens his lens.

I've long lamented, we are a touch-deprived species. This is made more palpable by the solitude of self so prevalent in our western culture. Where else are people so vigilant about observing the social custom of personal space? Where else do people actually step away from you if you dare infringe on that invisible boundary? (Do you step away or do you stay put? I generally stay put.) Touch is something that comes naturally to us when we are children. We are coddled, held, stroked, soothed, washed, and kissed. Not only by adopted/biological caregivers, but often by strangers. Sadly, as we age, this overlooked sense is slowly snatched away from us.

As a single gal it can be hard to fill my weekly, monthly, and yearly touch quota. I don't live in close proximity of family. I don't hug co-workers, mainly for fear of a sexual harassment suit. I don't engaging in promiscuous behavior. So where does that leave me? Monthly massages. Which help...to a degree. Invariably though, I'm left with an insatiable craving for more. More human contact. And while I am not one to claim 'physical' as my primary love language, I am a proponent that there is power in the intimacy of touch. (Confession: on occasion, I have to restrain myself from taking the hand of the stranger standing next to me on a crowded metro. That sounds bizarre, I know. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn't.)

In the early 60s the psychology of the day taught that indulging one's own children with excessive hugs or kisses (meaning more than once a year), was detrimental to their health. One brave researcher, Harry Harlow, studied this phenomenon in monkeys. He proved, in fact, the exact opposite was true. Noting that unconditional love and the craving to be comforted by touch was a necessary part of healthy development.

Images from 'Touching Strangers' indicate that some people are uncomfortable with the idea of touching a stranger; their body language betrays them. Others seem keener to the idea. The temerity of the project is intensified by the composition and color. It is both moving and striking. Reaffirming my conviction that to truly be human, we must allow ourselves to be touched.

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