The Value of Human Touch
By DANNY MINTON
Over the years, I’ve read articles and excerpts from books that speak of an experiment that supposedly took place in the U.S. in 1944. Some have said it was a Nazi experiment during the war, and others say it happened sometime in the 1800’s. My guess is that it did happen, and it was such a cruel thing to do that no one would want to claim to be a part of the experiment. True or not, I’m sharing it because the claimed results factually apply to experiences in today’s world.
The case study relates that researchers divided forty newborn babies into two groups. One group, they treated with the same love and affection that any newborn receives. They were fed, changed, played with, and cuddled. The second group they cared for in a sterile environment. They were fed, changed, dressed, and cared for with everything except the human touch of being talked to or cuddled. The experiment lasted for four months, at which time it ceased, some say because several of the infants in the second group died from lack of human affection. In the end, one group of babies was happy and connected, while the other had difficulty coping with the lack of affection.
Our society today uses this very result to explain why so many people become criminals. Lawyers defending them tell how, when growing up, they received no parental affection. They were not loved or cared for and, as a result, turned on society. It’s not hard to see that as being a factor in how a person views their world.
There is another scenario that hits closer home to many of us that shows the effects of the lack of human touch with those we love. It saddens me to see so many during the “pandemic” who are stuck in nursing homes and care facilities without the ability to have contact with their loved ones. Families find themselves separated, with those on the outside watching their loved ones deteriorating before their eyes from lack of hugs and affection. They are fed, clothed, dressed, and cared for daily. What is missing is that human contact, the touch of someone who loves them. They see them through plexiglass dividers or glass windows, but no longer able to feel their warmth. As a result, some have given up on life.
In dealing with church members, the one thing that everyone says they miss is being together on Sunday morning. They miss the handshakes and the hugs with their spiritual family. They can see some through streaming services and others through “Zoom” meetings. They talk on the phone or send cards of encouragement, but it’s not the same as that human touch each week. For many, this means they live a lonely life at home, unable to be around those who are a significant part of their life. There is a deep yearning to remove the gloves and masks and get back to being “family” again.
I’ve shared many times one of my favorite events in the life of Jesus. Recorded in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they all use some of the same terminologies to tell the story. It’s the story of the man “covered” with leprosy who came to Jesus saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean!” Then Jesus does something that touches my heart. The man was lying face down on the ground in front of Jesus, and instead of just speaking to him, the Word says that Jesus “stretched” out his hand, an action that broke any barrier between them and touched him. “I am willing!”
Imagine this man, touched for the first time in years by another human being: touch, something deprived of from all parts of society. Now, Jesus touched him. There were other times Jesus show his affection for others by a gentle touch, the taking of a hand, or a soft-spoken word of encouragement.
One thing this pandemic has taught us is how much we need each other to make it through life. We’ve learned to appreciate our friendships and family connections more. We’ve learned the value of human touch in a world separated at arm’s length.
One day, hopefully soon, the world will return closer to “normal.” One thing I hope that we never see as normal again are those handshakes, hugs, and smiles of those with whom we gather each week. They are not normal. They are special.
While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately, the leprosy left him. Luke 5:12-13 (NASB)
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ