When a child snaps and freefall begins, you can learn a lot from the ensuing scramble. Arturo, an eight year old, showed that he had snapped last week when he punched, and bit a couple of child crisis staff, scrawled swear words on the office wall, and kicked at the air to scare the rest of us away. During it all, I witnessed more than a child in crisis.

I also saw how guidelines and procedures fail to chart how we should behave when we slip outside of the situations the guidebooks’ authors anticipated. For example, at one point, a frustrated social worker pulled the crisis manual from the shelf to see what she must have missed. She set it down in seconds. We were off script. Two staff restrained the boy and at that point we went somewhere beyond the warning that says, above all else, do not touch.

For those for whom touch is approved, they have received unique certification. Even with these unique credentials, the rule is still to touch only when all else has been tried. The nature of how touch occurs is described, regulated and sometimes inadequate. When Arturo fled, staff had been using approved holds. Still, he slipped free and ducked down hallways to hide.

Police officers arrived, found him in a custodial closet, and coaxed him back to my office. We stood together, a room full of experts baffled by how to contain the uncontainable. One large social worker cornered Arturo behind a desk while case workers and staff worked the phones seeking clearances and guidance from their superiors. They got voicemail. One officer relented and said let’s pick him up. They lifted Arturo, one on each arm, dragged him across the street and stuffed him, kicking and swinging, into the back of a squad car.

One of my bosses once described events beyond the limits of our systems – untouchable places where irregular circumstances wait. This same boss told us that a requisite for leadership was a willingness to step into that untouchable, unchartered place to foster the connections that systems refuse to. He outlined case after case where rulebooks could only take you so far, and then you had to move ahead without the support of precedent, a clear map, or an encouraging word.

His words brought to mind a time very different moment, when a former President stood between two quarreling Middle East leaders during negotiations, taking one man’s hand and joining it with the other in a hand shake. News lines buzzed with this president’s audacious act. He had stepped over a line in introducing touch. No script, but instead, powerful impact and for a moment, a bit of hope.

We earned our broken and battered retreat to touchless interventions through many abuses.  Melt downs and collapses are an unpredictable expectation, and sometimes all we can do is to stand by, helpless. That we might relearn now to listen to the body, and how to re-engage the power of simple contact – Do we have to make it so challenging for reliable wisdom to work its magic? As the pace of free fall quickens we may want to revisit what we thought we knew.


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6 Responses to Touch

  1. Zeus Yiamouyiannis November 21, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Greg, you’ve touched on something so powerful, so emblematic of our current alienation– the active metaphor of touch.

    The metaphor of the Industrial Age is one of observation, distancing, set up impersonal mechanisms like manuals to handle “threats to the system”.

    Now the need for intimacy is not just creeping but roaring back in. Kids are crying for touch. The earth is crying for touch.

    We see that our distancing has sabotaged the best way we know how to establish solidarity with the world– touch. We are paying for this lack of intimacy with ill-considered habits that damage others and damage the world.

    So my question to you would be: How, and in what ways, might we bring touch back into these official environments that need them so badly?

  2. Ami February 9, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    I enjoyed reading this blog, very wise. In a way I found myself realizing it very easily and in a young age as I grow up in a house and culture of touch, hugs, affection and kisses.

    That is the reason why I have adopted this habit into greeting the “strangers” into my house for meditations. Through that I have already gained energetic reading to the emotional state of each one.Some people didn’t knew how to hug me, they just froze in my arms.

    So I agree with you! one of the main problem as I said in our phone chat is that the society is being programmed to less and less physical connection,interaction in family structure with mums rushing back to work after 3 months. With kids in school until 3 pm so the parents could work then to activities then to dinner in front of the Ipad. Then outside of family we are a social media society, less and less human interaction more and more screens and text with no emotions. As a musician I am telling you it is harder and harder to fill live concert venues, today people have all the entertainment in this pocket phone.

    And so they know, whats bring us together is love and affection, once that is disturb troubles begin.

    That’s way we are here for…spread the love 🙂

    I am sending you a proper email tomorrow so we could start rolling this project.
    Check the solar eclipse report I posted on my facebook page, very powerful day for manifestation.

    Love to you,

  3. Adrienne February 9, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    This was written by my brother, who is a principal in an elementary school in a “tough neighborhood” He writes regularly, but I thought you might find this of interest…as you can see he is a deeply thoughtful man doing a very hard job that takes every single bit of him to do, and do so well and so thoughtfully …and his experience is a window into what is happening globally x A

  4. Gina February 9, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Yes this certainly resonates with me as a teacher and as a service provider in children’s services !!
    I so get the notion of touch ..
    Many years ago when I was a prep teacher …Lionel stepped into my life
    And he still walks with me in my mind and soul … The difficult ones are the ones that teach you the most

    Lionel,A child whose Australian mother and living somewhere in the states returned to Australia to live because the child was particular unmanageable…well actually understatement ..will make story short ..but
    Extremely violent child… Expelled at six from the American school..and then he was in my class….terrible angry , extreme strength and violence came out of this child .
    The mother told me that in the states she waited outside in her car every single day because by ten past nine she was called to collect him
    They had a no touch policy ……

    So after I realised this my approach was quite different …. He was a serious threat to all children and teachers and always kicked beat and hit us … But I used to hold him …over hug style totally illegal in the states and now of course here as well as we have gone the no touch policy as well…good grief .. No punching , hugging and innocent kisses !!! Poor children ….

    I would repeat words like this for ages to him how sad I was for him that he felt so angry, but it was ok to feel like that , but nothing here would hurt him , I told him i was not going to send him home no matter what he did to me and did he hurt me alot !!! Yes …..but I cont. told him I loved him … liked him ………it took months and my whole classroom of children and I , learnt how to give him love … And although he never lost his anger we were able to help him be be the best he could be ….. And that was the most sustaining feeling as an adult in his life …

    Policies, rules are terrible they never see the child (wether that hold is now an adult)
    People are becoming frozen in the decisions on how to be, live and move forward .. Being scared, lazy and indifferent… It’s a huge milaze that will kill our humanity …
    I feel your brothers pain….

    It’s a huge issue in working with children ….. We are not leading them into adulthood with great leadership and your brother is. A Shining light

  5. Albert February 9, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    What a beautiful post, Greg, thank you. You would have made a wonderful father. The kids are very lucky to have you.

  6. Beth June 25, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    Wow. The poor kid. The poor staff. Hard day. Nice writing. The book I was telling you about is called “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the hidden power of Character” by Paul Tough. I had it on reserve at the library for a long time but I was at the bottom of the list, so I bet it’s not so hard to get now.

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