Daily Herald April 2, 1983
I once saw a student run into difficulties, at a school gymnastics competition finals with her full somersault over the vaulting box. Her hand slipped or her momentum ran out. What started out as a smooth, fully extended somersault ended up as an awkward crash to the mat. The student wasn't injured, but was shook up in other ways. She was deeply disappointed at what happened. I suspect she saw it not only as a personal defeat but also as her letting her school team down. She walked to the bench, and crumpled onto it, her head in her hands.
Immediately, hands from her schoolmates reached out to touch her arm. Soon after, her teacher came over, sat down, and put her hand on her shoulder as well. Few words, if any were spoken. Words weren't needed. In their simple act of extending themselves to her, the students and teacher provided the right amount of support and assistance at the right time.
The easiest and most effective way to show caring doesn't need words. It involves reaching out and touching another person. A hand placed on a hand, arm or shoulder is an effective way of saying, "I'm here. I care."
Life has disappointments and failures, its share of hurts and sorrows. We're each responsible for handling what happens to us, but we can help others and they can help us, by just being there. A hand reaching over to touch a person gently gives them that important signal they are not alone, even though, they may feel that way. Reaching out can be a very helpful way to show caring. Yet, only if several important rules are followed.
The first is that the touch must be acceptable. It's too bad in our society that any male - female touch is readily equated with sexual overtones. One person may intend a touch to say, "I'm here. I care", yet someone else may interpret it as a sexual approach. In cases where misinterpretation may easily occur, a hand to hand touch is the best.
The second rule is that a person is sometimes not yet ready to be reached out to. They may show this by moving away from your touch. This is their way of saying, "I can't accept help at this time". Let them know you understand this, but that you are still there, and would like to reach out to them when they're able to accept.
Finally, don't follow reaching out with platitudes like, "We can't all win". Don't evaluate, criticize or give suggestions like, "You really should have done this", or heavy emotional messages such as "I'm SO sorry it happened". Let any words that come out of your mouth be short and brief, such as "It hurts" or disappointing". The best way to show you care is to say nothing at first. Just be there! Let the other person do the talking. Don't cut them off. Respond with acceptance and support. Reaching out is to show you care, not to take over for them. Care enough to reach out, but care enough to let your reaching do your speaking for you.