Infants who do not receive enough touch can die due to a condition known as “failure to thrive.” Skin-to-skin contact is important for both infants and mothers. It reduces stress and increases emotional connection according to “Scientific American.” As we grow up, we don’t stop needing that contact; we can just get by with less, even if it means going without it for years.
Banishment and Solitary Confinement
In the Middle Ages, banishment was a form of punishment akin to death. The person who was banished at that time lost all of his or her support network. The banished became a person non grata in his or her own community and had to find another place to live. Often, the new person would not be accepted in a different society. They could die from exposure to the elements if they didn’t find a place to live, hunger if they couldn’t find food, or dysentery and other disease if they found the wrong food or water source. A person who was taken out of society was at a great risk of physical death after experiencing identity death.
Someone who is in jail can be subjected to a worse punishment. Solitary confinement is used to separate prisoners who misbehave for the safety of the other inmates. Sitting all day alone gives these prisoners an opportunity to think about what they’ve done. On a much lesser scale, children face this type of punishment when they are sent to their rooms or put in the corner. The punishment keeps them from interacting and touching others.
Isolation in Fiction
Several fiction stories have explored long-term isolation and its effects. The Twilight Zone’s first episode was about a man who couldn’t find anyone in the town he walked to. “Where Is Everybody?” was the series start that explore isolation on different levels. “The Lonely,” another Twilight Zone episode, features a convict on asteroid. His only contact comes from the supply ship that arrives every six months. A more modern take on isolation is Tom Hank’s “Cast Away” (affiliate link) wherein Hank’s character befriends a volleyball. In literature, “Robinson Crusoe” (affiliate link) deals with a shipwreck and what happens to the man involved. People aren’t meant to live alone, even those who profess to not like people – maybe them the most. Think of Scrooge (affiliate link) who isolated himself for the love of money until he was visited by ghosts.
Cultural Human Touch
In many cultures, human touch is an important part of interacting. Handshakes, cheek-kissing, a pack on the mouth, and holding hands are all ways to establish a familial or platonic connection depending on where you are and what the cultural norm is. Not being able to connect with people in this very personal way can keep others off their game and lead to depression.
Other Ways to Connect
Fortunately, there are other ways you can connect while staying at least six feet or farther apart. The current self-isolation and quarantine doesn’t mean you have to avoid human contact altogether – just physical contact. With the Internet available, you can still connect to your friends and family. Facetime, Facebook chat, and Skype are all ways to connect to the people you know and love. You even get video!
You can also use your phone to call them. Or if you want less interactivity, you could try YouTube or Facebook live. You don’t have to be alone with your thoughts. You just shouldn’t be in the same place as someone else. Virtual conversations can cover that. Even better, if you’re one of the people who is just supposed to stay home, you have the time to make those important connections again.
How to Survive
Astronaut Chris Hadfield has four steps to thriving in self-isolation. The first step is to understand the risks. Don’t let fear rule you. Find the facts and learn your risk factor. The next steps are knowing your mission and obligations. Then you can take action and do something about it.
One Person Doing It Right
Paul Draper, a public speaker, magician, mentalist, and anthropologist was at Disneyland waiting to do a show when he heard the park was closing and he was out of a job. As a public speaker, he’s lost several gigs, and instead of focusing on what happened to him, he focused on what he could do to make his situation better. He started a community on Patreon where he shares his stories and secrets. The biggest secret is that he isn’t just helping himself. He’s helping others through his thoughtful posts and comments. He is still accomplishing his goals, he’s just harnessing the Internet to do it.
The Next Steps
In essence, touch helps us feel real. We need someone else to validate who we are and who we think we are. We need to know we are loved. Words are inadequate to the job, especially in cultures where saying “I love you” is taboo or restricted enough to be taboo. However, you don’t have to let self-isolation take your humanity. Sure, you may feel like touch is the exact thing you need to feel real, but being human is so much more.
Storytelling for Your Soul
One good way to connect is through storytelling. People have been telling stories long before they could write. Fairy tales, fables, and many religions are made up from oral stories passed from generation to generation until they could be written down. Storytelling is your birthright as a human being and now, you have more options to tell your story than ever before.
Write a novel. Write a short story. Tell the story on video and then release it on YouTube, Facebook, or your favorite social media. Some people are using MadLibs to pass the time. Start your own. There are even communities of writers that have writing prompts. If you’ve always wanted to be a writer, the only qualification is you need to write.
Storytelling isn’t just about telling your story. It’s also about listening to the stories of others. It’s the give and take. The act of sharing between two people that makes storytelling so powerful. You don’t have to search far for stories. There are plenty of movies and books with fandoms that you can connect to. However, talking to the older members of your family and asking them for their history will increase your appreciation of them and create memories that will last a lifetime. Now is the time to call grandma and grandpa and ask them how they are doing, and if they’re up for it, what they remember best about their lives.
Play Some Music
You’ve seen the videos of Italians connecting to each other through music from their balconies. Police officers in Mallorca are performing concerts while enforcing the lock down in Spain. Celebrities came together while remaining apart to perform “Imagine.” The Doobie Brothers knew what they were singing about when they said “Listen to the Music.”
But you don’t have to just listen. You can perform, too. Maybe you don’t play an instrument, but if you have one at home, you can learn. All you really need is your voice. Check out Cameron Diaz (below) singing in a scene from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” or Tiffany Haddish in Netflix’s “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.” Neither one of them is on-key, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is giving yourself the voice and allowing your lungs, vocal cords, and mouth to work together to sing out your feelings – whatever they are.
Back to Normal
We can’t know when it will be safe to touch each other again. As long as people break the rules and continue to party, get together for church services, congregate in parks because “I do what I want” or whatever their excuses are for coming together, we will continue to face the consequences of our physical interactions. Those of us who are doing our part will face the continued consequences of those who are being irresponsible and exposing all of us to greater risk. But that’s okay because in the end, we will understand that our humanity comes from our compassion, our creativity, our storytelling, and our music. Create something new today, and the world will be better for it tomorrow.