Saturday, December 22, 2007

We seem to live in a world increasingly devoid of personal contact.

Schools across the country are banning everything from hugging to high fives. An MSNBC article from October had this gem of a quote... '“Would you want your children to be hugging or kissing at school without your knowledge?”' That would be from David Hadley, the principal of some middle school in Texas.

Some administrators are citing "hallway clogs" as the reason to ban hugs, blaming girls for exchanging lots of hugs between classes, and others imply that hugging could lead to something worse. [Well, I suppose that Britney Spears' 16 year-old sister IS pregnant, so maybe they're on to something afterall.]

Spawns of Spears aside, it seems like a lot of us live without any meaningful contact from day to day. Touching isn't allowed, and with sexual harassment suits on the rise, it becomes more of a risk every day to reach out. I read an article once about a male teacher who took his young students into the hallway to help them zip up their jeans after using the bathroom, just in case. We don't trust each other, or can't. Touch has become a taboo thing, an excercise in deviancy practiced in the shadows by child predators and creepy Catholic priests.

I can think of so many examples to illustrate my line of thinking about this, some of them funny and some of them disturbing. I remember reading an article in the local newspaper about someone breaking into our local zoo and sodomizing a miniature horse with a pop bottle. As a child and as a longtime lover of horses [a word which can be misconstrued in this context] I was horrified, but thinking back, I can't help but wonder what was going through the mind of the person who did it. Honestly, who the hell would do something like that? Probably someone whose parents didn't hug them enough as a child.

Human contact has been shown in studies to reduce stress, and even petting an animal can have a stress-relieving effect. We're social creatures who crumble in the face of solitary confinement. More and more we live in relative isolation, surrounded by technology that enables communication without connection. The neighborhood is no longer a center of activity, and we hardly even know our neighbors anymore. New subdivisions are designed so that houses are set at the end of long driveways and there are no sidewalks for children to ride bikes on. Instead of walking next door for a cup of sugar, we drive to the nearest convenience store.

If this all seems unorganized, my apologies— as I write I keep thinking of more examples and I want to list them all. I think we forget to think about our lives, why we live the way we do, why we live here and not there. It's too easy to walk through everyday life with blinders on, not facing any of the problems pressing into our generation. It has to stop.

Because of a service-learning class I took last semester, I became involved in a community center just down the street from the place I go to school and the neighborhood I was born and raised in. My neighborhood and the one I volunteered in were different in many ways and had different sets of problems. What impressed me time after time as I spent time at the neighborhood center was the level of commitment the staff had to building a thriving community. They offer workshops, coffee hours, homebuyer's counseling, and many other services— all with the neighborhood's health as a whole in mind. It's a wonderful program that, quite frankly, I am enamoured of, and so excited to be working with them again next semester. More on that later.

A couple months ago my yoga instructor mentioned to us that we shouldn't worry about touching other people as we moved through the various positions during our practice. She talked about how many of us go far too many days at a time without being touched by another person, and I was deeply touched by the sentiment. I try to remember that as I move through each day.

1 comment:

gaz said...

i agree wholeheartedly yels. it's the increasing lack of physical contact that is making physical contact feel more... odd, suspicious.
this type of thing is just one more nail in the coffin that contains the corpse of 'normal social behaviour'.
good post.