Terror at Work
It is not acceptable in society that we intimately touch each other in public. This is definitely the case at work. Agreed?
Yet it is considered essential that we, as humans, experience touch, not just once in a while but every day. Newborn babies need touch to survive. A newborn that does not experience human touch in the first few days of life can die. Yes it is that important. Touching the baby reinforces it’s fundamental value, it’s worth. The baby experiences welcome, safety and inclusion, building the foundation for social-emotional competency. This is where the attribute of courage begins to develop. Touch not only impacts short-term development during infancy and early childhood, but also has long-term effects. There is great power in positive, gentle touch, from birth and throughout life. Touch is affirmation. We crave it.
Modern people are reluctant, if not downright terrified, to touch each other. But touch holds a place of reverence for us. A compelling story can touch, so much as to bring emotion, tears of empathy, vicarious joy or sadness, all the way to outrage. Touch is so personal. Touch is intimate. To live without touch is to be lonely, to feel empty, like life is meaningless. In this state it is extremely difficult to be giving but not difficult to take, and demand, and lash out.
Put this in a work context. The worker requires food, clothing and shelter. The paycheck used to get those fundamentals is the basest of reasons for the worker to work. There is other currency available.
As an experiment, let the work colleagues all the way to the boss and owner of the company each be given an envelope of touch coupons. These can be used to give touch to a colleague or request touch from a colleague. Hmmm? Interesting idea, and notice all the ‘oh, oh’, and ‘not with me you won’t’ and ‘watch out for so and so’. Some might be scrambling to find a get out of touching free card. What would the atmosphere at work now likely include? Terror probably makes the list.
I lived for many years with my ‘get out of touching free card’ pinned to my lapel, to make it extra clear that was my wish. Then a man touched me. He looked at me, with full eye contact, and stayed. His demeanor was as gentle as a nurse in the newborn nursery at the hospital. And he just stayed… saying with his whole being that I was safe and welcomed and just perfect exactly as I was, sitting there before him, incapacitated. That was intimate touching, big time. Affirming, with an unswerving dose of Acceptance. Whoa!
To die for. More like I was dying without it and didn’t even know. I powered my way through life believing that was the way. Having received true ‘touch’ I started to understand about the babies in the nursery. I started to understand how much more safety and inclusion was actually available and started to dare being more courageous. When I see a colleague I now deliberately attempt to connect, to touch them. Big and wonderful things happen. Simply establish eye contact and stay a moment, smile (show Acceptance) and get to the task at hand from there. The world needs more touch. Without it, we will likely die.
What could happen if we allow ourselves to ‘touch’ our colleagues at work in at least a little bit of this affirming and Accepting way? Not physically, rather through the eyes, through an intention of Acceptance. What might become more possible for your colleagues? What might start to grow within you?
Get out of touching free card? Maybe I could put it in my pocket for a while. What will you do with yours?
Joseph Seiler MCC