The Etymology of Touch

Image courtesy: Creative Commons/ Pixabay
There is something sweet about a touch. It gives us pleasure. It comforts us. It soothes us. It warms us. And then, it connects us with the other person either in a tender embrace, a firm handshake or a gentle caress.

As tactile beings we long for it, and shudder at the very thought of living our entire lives 'chronically untouched.' Right from the time we are babies to our childhood years, we have been hardwired to appreciate and accept touch as something very natural -- even essential.

Babies instinctively reach out, children like to be held close, teenage boys shrug but meekly accept a hug, and the grown ups may not always admit to their need but when faced with an emotionally vulnerable moment a touch is the only language that can be understood... that can fully explain everything without any words being said.

A touch has that power, has that magic, and that sense of letting the other person know, it's ok.

But then again, not all touches are the same.... sometimes the unexpected and unwanted touch can shake our world in ways that can be devastating. When not needed or even expressed inappropriately, a touch can seem like a slap rather than as a soothing balm it is supposed to be.  When this happens, we are left confused, bewildered and in some cases, ashamed.

We are confused because we can't seem to make the connection between that which is essentially good with that uncomfortable feeling we seem to get when touched wrongly. We are bewildered because we know that a touch is not supposed to make us feel this way and yet somehow we can't seem to shake that feeling of being disgusted. We feel ashamed because in some twisted way we feel that we are responsible for this... that somehow we were complicit and whatever happened was our fault after all. Whatever image we have of ourselves as a moral and upright person comes tumbling down with the swiftness of an avalanche.

It shouldn't be so but it happens all the same.

There are some, however, who are able to immediately articulate what they felt and experienced. They are able to put into words the pain and the agony they feel, and know exactly what legal or other steps they should take to make things right. They are the brave ones who believe waiting is foolish and futile, and action must be taken as soon as possible for justice to be served.

But not everyone is able to do that.

For many it is a dark road that never seems to end... the more they try to make sense of what really happened they find themselves plunging deeper and deeper into an abyss. Something inside of them is broken, and though they know what it is it takes years or sometimes decades for them to finally come to terms with it and say, yes, this is what happened, this is what I felt, and it was not good at all.

It is not cowardice or even denial that makes them arrive at such a realization so late... it is just that there are layers upon layers of other hurts, memories of other inappropriate moments and all of this mixed with struggles to retain some degree of self esteem. So when they reach that moment when the chains of the past are broken, it is a liberating experience because they realize that it wasn't their fault at all... this truth echoes what Jesus Christ said, the truth shall make you free!

Truth has that power for the hurting soul and the wounded person... it is like a ray of light sneaking into a darkened room and extinguishing years of misery. It is like being set free from a dungeon and enjoying the feeling of wet grass on the soles of ones' feet.

In the last one or two years, the #metoo movement has gathered steam, and many men are wondering, why on earth have women come up now and begun to narrate their stories. Some smell a conspiracy as if some shadowy group is behind all of these revelations, and is hell bent on tarnishing the good name of some of the men implicated.

And then there are those who insist that some of the women were slutty to begin with, and that they basically asked for it. What could the poor man do when she stood next to him radiating her sensuality in all its glory? Poor helpless man had no choice but just reach out and touch all that sexiness.

We don't have the answers for all the stories... we can't deny that there might just be a few cases of seduction and blackmail but we can't -- at the same -- brush aside the many stories that are now emerging simply because we find them unpalatable. Women are finally finding courage to speak up about the truth of what they have experienced, and not taking them seriously is not the answer.

The young girl who was groped by a family member and told to keep quiet about it. The young intern at a new place of work having to contend with unwanted hugs from senior officials in the organisation. Or the many women who have had to deal with lustful eyes scrutinising every inch of their body, and still other women having to give up on trying to explain that being friendly is not the same as flirting. Many of these accounts are rooted in a painful past that many have worked hard to forget, and yet the scars remain.

In many cases, unwanted advances from strangers could be dealt with because it's reasonable to assume that strangers are dangerous... and this is something we often tell children and we hope they pay attention to those instructions.

The trouble is... what does a person do when those touching them inappropriately are trusted family members, colleagues, family friends, supervisors... or religious leaders? What does one do when the very people who we should trust end up betraying?

These are people whose touch is welcome and even expected but when they behave dishonorably and touch in ways that are not pleasurable the young woman or man is left shattered. It takes them years to put the pieces together and sometimes not at all.

So to answer why are women coming up now with their #metoo stories... many are finding courage to speak up because some have shown that it is OK to talk about it, that it is OK to even talk about it after many years, that it is better late than never as long as speaking will bring healing.

In other words,  making it clear that a touch is not a freebie but a choice... and disregarding this important point is not a slight, a mistake or an accident but a serious crime.


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