The cost of losing physical contact

by Phil Lowe

The handshake, the hug, the hand on the shoulder, the high five, the touch on the cheek, these things have been part of our society for so long and they matter. They tell someone that you care, they tell someone that you understand, they can convey a range of emotions without having to utter a single word. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have had to go without many of these physical signals and it is having an effect on us.

The handshake is believed to have originated many years ago as a signal to a stranger that you were not holding a weapon. It is ironic then that now it may face extinction because the handshake itself has become the weapon. The coronavirus has ravaged many countries and social distancing has been proven as the key to stopping it. Some have claimed that the handshake may never return after this pandemic. While many things in our lives will change once the new normal arrives, one thing for certain is that there will surely be less physical contact. How much of a price is this to pay?

While we count the cost of the lives lost and the economic price we have to pay the emotional cost will run deep as well. To think that you may never be able to express your emotions in the same way that you were is alarming. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the start of the pandemic that people may never shake hands again, he said it partly in jest but since then people have begun to question if we ever will. I can’t imagine a world where we don’t greet people in a physical way and while I have never been fond of the European three kisses I don’t think I could work with elbow taps either. 

Recently the manager of Manchester United spoke about his players returning to training in the midst of the pandemic. He spoke about the many difficulties the team would face and how no one would be asked to play if they didn’t feel safe. He also spoke about how his role as a manager would change. A large part of his job is knowing how to deal with the emotions of his players. Some need an arm around their shoulder when they have been dropped, others need to be left alone but he has basically been stripped of many of the tools that he had to keep the full squad happy.

Anyone who is in quarantine alone has likely not had physical contact with another human for weeks. Something that starts the moment we are born when as a baby we reach out for our mothers to the last moment we die when we hold the hand of our loved one, is now being denied. When we come out of this pandemic people will need to express their emotions and in a physical way. Let’s hope the world is still willing to do it.

If you are lucky enough to be in quarantine with someone you love. Don’t take for granted the ability to give them a hug or even a handshake. Take the opportunity that so many don’t have and express your emotions every way you can.

While I can’t imagine a world where the handshake is extinct it is difficult to imagine whether things will really be able to return to normal. I imagine that once a vaccine for the coronavirus is found than people may actually start to represent their emotions in a more physical way after being forced to hold back for so long. Until that time keep your distance and find new ways to show that you care.

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