By Okwuanya Pius-Vincent
Interesting scenes jumped at me from a busy road on a Monday morning. A man who was ran over by a hit and run driver lay in a heap at the centre of the road. There were lots of people but then there was no one. The general chorus of the crowd was “ebola”. As I reached the scene, someone had paved a way through the crowd and was putting the unconscious man into a bus. I was impressed by such touch of bravery and humanness which can also be considered stupid in the nosophobic background but a short rotund woman with a glowing fair skin poured cold water on my elation. “Na him younger brother na” she had said in the local pidgin. The scene left me distraught and existential. What if it had been me? I left with the conviction that I could have bled out on the sidewalk. Like a whole lot of us, I have often found myself in a locale where I have no immediate brothers.
This newest cause of this collective nosophobia has some ramifications on faith. The faith of man in his neighbour who he had started to see as a little more than a vector and his faith in God who he has been told many a times by authorities that He cannot help him. Karl Marx had earlier stated that religion is the opium of the masses; maybe religion is the opium we need to anesthetize us from the gruelling confrontation with our insensitive egocentrism, our morbidity and our mortality. When we are faced with a disease that is highly communicable and that has no tested and proven cure, it is the time to take a leap of faith. That is, the kind of faith that made the United States of America to give their afflicted citizens a drug that is yet to be tested on human subjects. Faith is not advising or taking a salt bath nor is it taking one’s own urine. It is the addressing of real problems with effort-based and reasonably possible solutions. It becomes difficult in the 21st century society where faith is subjected to the “Thomasic” lens where touching is believing because now we can no longer afford to touch.
“It is all in his touch” sang the legendary artiste, Celine Dion. In that song, she communicated surreptitiously the importance of touch and suggests that love cannot be heard or seen but felt. The loss of touch poses another palpable challenge. Touching is critical in creating bonds and building friendship. It is the fastest and the most precise way to communicate emotions and is also important in the development of attachment. What is there in a mother’s caress that soothes the infant? It is worrying that one of the preventive measures of this ebola outbreak is to avoid touching as often as possible. Matthew Hertenstein, a doctor in Psychology underlined the importance of touch when he stated that with the voice, one can only differentiate two distinct signals but a touch can communicate multiple positive emotions like joy, love, gratitude and sympathy. These are the kind of emotions that the dreaded ebola is threatening to eviscerate from the society.
Touches can increase the speed of communication, Laura Guerrero, co-author of Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships who researches non-verbal and emotional communication at Arizona State University submits that if we are close enough to touch, it is usually a signal to something. She notes that human beings feel more connected when they are touched. It is true that we may not be able to see the impact of touch but Hertenstein feels that it is a great bonding experience which sees the oxytocin levels go up as the heart rate slows down. The climax of our humanity is in our ability to touch. To coin a phrase; to touch is human and thus, any situation that dictates that we do not touch strips off our humanity. Two hundred years ago, a creature that looked slightly human was sighted running through the woods of Aveyrnon in Southern France. Once he was captured, the scientist surmised that he was eleven years and had run away from home for much of his childhood. One of the renowned psychiatrists at the time Phillipe Pinel concluded that the child was an incurable idiot but there was an alternative suggestion from his attendant, Itard who felt that the child who he had named Victor had been deprived of human physical touch which had retarded his developmental capacities and had made him profoundly averse to human society. After therapy, Victor improved but never regained full normalcy.
This enforced loss of human physical touch may have strong social consequences. It may cause self-destructive habits like chain smoking, alcoholism and even self-mutilation. It can also lead to compulsive sex, physical violence, aggressiveness, rape and sexual dysfunction and abuses. There have been many psycho-analyses of deviants which traced the origin of their deviance to the absence of human touch during their formative years. Dr. J.H Prescott earlier suggested in a research that touch deprivation in childhood could lead to physical violence. He found out that most juvenile delinquents and criminals come from abusive parents. A greater percentage of the world’s most prolific serial killers came from homes where there were scarcities of the loving touch that makes man human. It is thus easy to feel afraid for the future of our society in a world where science, technology and most pressingly diseases has dictated an aversion for touch. These are not the times when you will present a handshake to a stranger, an acquaintance or even a friend. The question that dominates the consciousness of any man when he runs into a friend currently is “To shake or not to shake?”
Okwuanya Pius-Vincent [email protected] and Twitter: @Tovincentokwy.