Reach out and Touch

Six little-known tidbits about the power of touch.

I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.

Maya Angelou

“Ms. Brewster” – my name called from the registration area at my back.

I scrambled to get purse, coat, book and travel mug together but there was no need as the registering nurse had stepped from behind the patterned glass partition, flimsy ID bracelet in hand and a smile on her face.

“I’ve got something for you,” she announced – a genuine smile, contagious.

“What’s your birth date Hon?” Southern drawl. “I see you’ve got one coming up” – eyes double-checking my info on the paper wrist-band in her hand.

When she looked up again the smile was still there. “Not allergic to latex, are you?”

I have enough of these paper bracelets to cover a wall.

Carefully taping the bracelet around my extended wrist, she looked me in the face then gently clasped my wrist with both hands. “You have a good rest of the day sweetheart,” she whispered.

That got me.

She had me good.

Immediately Nurse Ruthie became my favorite person in the whole clinic.

I didn’t understand what exactly she had done to make me fall for her; what is was that made me feel so much better about being at the coagulation clinic (for what seemed like the umpteenth visit for the year even though it was only May). I didn’t understand exactly what had happened that made the waiting so much more tolerable.

That was, not until a good friend suggested I write about the power of touch. Then, the silent world of touch began popping up all around me – it had been there all along, voiceless but amazingly powerful. Thank you Av for your wonderful suggestion.

The warmth of Nurse Ruthie’s touch had surprised me. It said, “I understand that you would prefer not to have to be here.” It said, “I care about you.” It said, “you can trust me.” One compassionate touch conveyed all that!

I have to say here that I don’t think I am naturally one of the touchy-feely sorts. Strange enough, I’m okay with the greeting hugs, but not big on the unbidden ones. Nor the random shoulder squeezes or impulsive back rubs – except with very close friends. I actually cringe when strangers get into my personal space – must be something to do with my childhood . . . who knows?

If it didn’t feel good, no one would do it!

But since my friend’s suggestion, I’ve found myself re-living the double handshakes at meetings, visualizing the back slaps on the rugby field, the fearless scrimmages and spontaneous, abandoned hugs; remembering the bro’ hugs at cook-outs, the cheek kisses, and head-pats (for the little ones – you don’t mess with a sista’s hair); reminiscing on the side hugs from students in the hallways and the delightful weight of two generations of children sitting on my lap, playing with my hair and fascinatingly long, skinny fingers.

I also became mindful of my own need for the occasional heart-warming hug of a friend. Don’t hugs just make you feel sooooo good? Not the fleeting cursory ones given with due diligence as a matter of protocol. I mean the ones that make your whole body smile.

So, what’s the big deal with humans and all the touching?

Well you know how there’re some things you just know but don’t know that you know until you are told you know them? I think it’s that way with the need to touch and to be touched. Everybody likes to be touched (by the right person at the right time – of course). If we didn’t, then we wouldn’t do it so much! We are born that way, it seems.

I bet you didn’t know you knew that too.

We are born with the need to touch and to be touched.


So I’ll go ahead and ‘fess up.

Sis, I actually like it when you smooth my unruly eyebrows with your finger tips. And Li’l bro, there’s a reassuring safety I feel when you hold my hand, even now that we are way past old enough not to lose each other in the crowd. And to my best-est, best friends, I have not outgrown the pleasure of those wonderfully tight cheek-to-cheek hugs.

I have not outgrown the pleasure of those wonderfully tight cheek-to-cheek hugs.

You see, I didn’t realize that I knew that touching is the most natural way of communicating affection and compassion, or that a touch can calm and reassure you.

What I didn’t know was that it’s not all psychological, there is a whole mess of biology behind it.

Reading about the fascinating world of touch brought me face to face with terms like ‘tactile deprivation‘and ‘skin hunger‘.

For instance, did you know that newborns who are ‘touch deprived’ do not develop normally? Their brains just don’t develop as they should and even if the babies are adequately fed, they fail to thrive and may even die! I certainly didn’t know that.

And did you know that the older we get, the more prone we become to “skin hunger” therefore need more nurturing and touching? That would sort’a explain why my mother used to insist that my siblings and I respectfully tolerate the stifling, lingering hugs that constantly hovered within arms’ length of numerous visiting ‘aunties’.

So here’s ‘the skinny’ about touching. Because it is so effective at signaling safety and trust, touch influences people in ways you would hardly imagine. So this is what ‘they’ say (‘they’ meaning researchers and social scientists).

6 little-known tidbits about the power of touch: 

  • If you touch someone while asking for a favor, they are more likely to be cooperative.
  • waitresses who intentionally touch clients are rated as more friendly and are likely to get bigger tips.
  • the more a sport’s team engages in pre-game physical contact, the greater the team dynamics, the better their chances of winning.
  • salespersons who casually but intentionally touch clients (alert: alert: non-intimidating, non-sexual) are perceived as more trust-worthy and therefore likely to get more sales.
  • students touched (again – alert: alert: non-threatening, platonic touches) by their teacher become more engaged in learning and are more likely to volunteer answers.
  • a pat on the back from a doctor, along with eye contact can boost survival rate of patients with complicated diseases.

Too good to be true? Maybe. Maybe not – but that’s what ‘they’say.

So what am I going to do with this new-found awareness of the power of touch? Let’s wait and see. In the meantime,

 stay in touch!



Author: Juliette

A graduate of The University of Louisville, Juliette holds an M.Ed. and has been a teacher for over 35 years, specializing in Language arts, Reading and Math. She received two life-saving liver transplants in 2005 and now lives happily with her husband of 19 years in Louisville, Kentucky.

4 thoughts on “Reach out and Touch”

  1. I’m one of those touchy-feely ones. I’ve seen so many barriers broken with that unexpected touch. Sometimes words need not be said. That touch just says it all. This simple interaction can be as good for the giver as it is for the receiver.
    By the way- I can see the magic of true friendship in your lovely pic. Keep on pressing on Julie. Thanks for this piece on TOUCH!

  2. Awesome. I have always known how good it feels to be hugged but never thought about all the scientific stuff behind it. As an older teenager I often would snuggle up with mummy. It just felt safe and good. The society has tarnished the idea of appropriate touch but it is the only way we can actually convey true love. I’m so glad you wrote this .

    1. I am so glad my friend suggested that I write about it. It really is so unfortunate that we have to be so careful about touching. There are many times when I really wanted to hug a student but . . . What a shame.

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