(Editor’s Note: Writer and BEST Guest Blog Contributor, Isaac Peterson returns with a compelling essay on the importance of the human touch. It’s a wonderful reminder for everyone. Thank you, Isaac! KT).
Maybe you remember the time I wrote about how sometimes ideas for a new essay just come to me out of the blue while I’m out walking? Well, it just happened again, about 20 minutes ago.
Let’s see how it goes.
I was thinking about how technology has changed pretty much everything in everyday life. And I thought about how there are people, particularly older people, who haven’t gotten into the swing of things with modern technology. And then it hit me: could it be the lack of human contact? The human touch? It can be so cold and impersonal.
Could that be what holds some people back?
Let me explain what I mean by the human touch with a couple of examples from my own life.
Do you remember the days when you could call a company and a real live human would answer the phone, not some voice mail that often does doesn’t list your problem in the menu options? .
I’m old enough to remember when people pretty much had to go into a music store to buy music or a book store to buy books. I loved doing that.
Now, most people seem to download songs or books from the internet. And that leaves out the part of buying books or music in person.
I loved going into a store and spending hours browsing and shooting the breeze with the clerks in those stores. Finding things I’d never heard of, exchanging recommendations with people who were really into books or music; I found tons of great stuff that way. Online recommendations of stuff based on what you’ve bought before just don’t take the place of those experiences for me. There isn’t an algorithm that can really account for my tastes and preferences.
Those are examples of what I mean by the human touch. (I know, I know I’m using a technological device to criticize technology.)
But Isaac, what does that have to do with traumatic brain injuries?
Hold on—this is going somewhere, I promise.
One of the most important things families, friends and caregivers can do is to interact with the brain injury survivor in their lives; reaching out and making a connection. Making the effort to just get to know you and really understand who you are as a person, what you need, what you go through, and so on.
We all know how important that is, that validation of our humanity and worth that helps us in our recovery.
But it’s also important that we reach back, that we make the sincere effort to understand them as much as we want them to know and understand us. Those kinds of connections are important for anyone, not just brain injury survivors. Making ourselves vulnerable by opening up and letting someone else in leads to deeper, more satisfying and healthy relationships and puts us in a better frame of being that helps ease the way to recovery.
What if you don’t really know anyone who reaches out to you, or who you can reach out to for that human contact? Don’t worry: reaching out works with people you don’t even know, and that I can tell you from personal experience. In line at the store, waiting in a lobby for an appointment, with the pizza delivery guy, you name it, there are all kinds of ways to reach out and have people reach back.
For example, I’ve found that when I’m in public situations and my brain injury brings out my inner klutz, or my short term memory fuzzes out in the middle of conversation, it’s helpful to let somebody know I’m a stroke survivor and have a traumatic brain injury. If I’m holding something and it slips out of my hand and falls, for example, I can say something like, I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to do that. Since I had a stroke, it’s kind of hard to keep focused and not have things like that happen sometimes.
I’ve just let that person know something personal about me. And that just about never fails to start a conversation with somebody I’ve never seen before and will likely never see again.
I’m not looking for sympathy or special treatment; I’m revealing something personal about myself to a stranger and establishing myself as human in their eyes. In my psychology classes they called that self-disclosure, and that human level of discourse helps build bridges with people. I’ve never had anything but a positive reaction from the other person in those situations. Some will tell you about a stroke survivor they know, some will tell you about something they themselves have a problem with, all kinds of things. But it’s never failed to be a positive, life affirming experience, however brief the encounter was.
Sometimes people seem to think I’ve suddenly become interesting and really want to do more than shallow small talk; in doing so, they are establishing their own humanity to you.
That’s one thing you can do. There are others, where you can actively seek out people to connect with.
One such place I recommend is Toastmasters. Have you heard of them?
Toastmasters is a place where a few people meet and everyone is encouraged to speak and there are chapters are all over the country. Sometimes you are given a topic and asked to speak on it right there on the spot. That can be an overwhelming prospect if you’re in the majority of people who are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of dying. I think what’s likely behind that is the fear of being laughed at.
But no matter the topic, if you are nervous, I recommend admitting your nervousness to the group. You might find that after you say that, you can kind of settle into a groove and make it through. But what will likely happen is the audience will relate to you as a real person and give you credit for having the nerve to stand there and take your chances on being laughed at. And people will admire you for reaching out in that way and will reach back. There will be people who will want to know you better.
Yet another place to reach out and make connections with real live humans is a support group. I’ve written about support groups before. They’re great places for (obviously from the name) support and are a great platform for the human contact give and take I’ve been talking about. It’s a great place to reach out and have people reach back.
Being with a group of individuals mutually sharing their pain, challenges, triumphs and all manner of personal information, is a great way to build those deep connections with others and help you come out of your own shell. The more you share, the more people will share with you. The bigger your world will become and the more it will be populated with people who care and understand. It’s also energizing and deeply satisfying.
That’s the point, right?
Those are just two examples of places I could think of to experience human contact. No doubt you can come up with others of your own.
I hope you’ll do more reaching out; your recovery will love it and thank you for it.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.