The Power of Touch

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jun 13, 2009

"The measure of a man is in the lives he's touched." 
Ernie Banks

Recently I attended the memorial service for G.E. (Skip) Lawrence. If there ever was a man who significantly touched Phoenixville, it was he. As I listened to the remarks of family and friends, I realized even more the depth and breadth of his influence. 

He obviously touched our community as an insightful and prolific writer, but his influence in words grew out of the influence of who he was as a person. Each anecdote captured some of the essence of this good man. 

That is one of the values of living in a community like Phoenixville. Here on the edge of Philadelphia we are growing by leaps and bounds. Even our traffic during rush hour informs us that we are connected well beyond our immediate borough. But even with the enormous changes and growth in recent years, we have not lost our feeling of community. Something very special resides here. 

Before and after the memorial service I also visited with many of my community friends and I realized how they also have touched my life. I told my wife, Evie, later what good people there are here and how they touch me every time I am with them. 

My friend Tim Buttrey recently wrote an essay titled "The Power of Touch." He speaks of touch as our first language. Long before we hear, see, smell or taste, we experience touch. According to the work of The Touch Research Institute touch triggers a host of positive chemical responses in the body. 

Buttrey sites a scientist at the University of Virginia who has found that "women under stress who hold their husbands' hands show signs of immediate relief, which can be clearly seen from their brain scans." 

In the Providence Journal, researcher Matthew Hertenstein says, " a recent study on neo-natal intensive care units, babies who received touch reported 47 % higher weight gain and came home six days sooner than infants who did not receive contact." 

Unfortunately, we also live in a world where the power of touch can also be used to harm rather than to help. Some kinds of touching are always inappropriate. Chuck Colson says in "Hands Off: No-Touch Policies at School" of a Connecticut schoolboy who gave another student a below-the-belt kick causing the victim to be rushed to the emergency room. 

In response, the principal sent a note to parents reinforcing the schools "No-Touch" policy prohibiting any kind of touching on the playground including "hugging" and "horseplay." The consequences could even lead to expulsion from school. He also cites the Washington Post where students say that high-fiving and pats on the back have been outlawed. 

We must be careful how we touch one another but in our effort to be appropriate we can also draw away from those who need our touch the most. All around us are people who are literally starved for touch for as Diane Ackerman said, "Touch seems to be as essential as sunlight." 

Technology gives us additional ways of touching each other. I now have nearly 2000 Facebook friends who touch me and who allow me to touch them. With a simple key stroke I can send one note to every one of our students and employees. We really could call this "High Tech" but does it also include "High Touch?" Which do you value most, an email thank you note or one that was handwritten and sent to you in the mail? 

We can touch each other literally or figuratively. In the words of Lewis Thomas, "We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go on whatever we touch." As I think about the power of touch, I recall all of those who have left "traces of themselves" on me. Their power of touch has indeed changed me forever. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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