Touch and Go

Last week I went to New Zealand for the weekend (as you do). I’m not normally prone to this kind of crazy travel, but I had the opportunity to attend Kiwi Foo, which is a most extraordinary meeting of crazy, passionate, richly varied, and intensely motivated people who want to change the world in some way. An invitation to Kiwi Foo is not something to be turned down.

I am in the middle of starting up a new and incredibly important enterprise, which I will blog more about shortly, but it means my days have been a whirl of intensely stimulating and slightly terrifying meetings, hideous paperwork, administrative complexity and delicate negotiations. I am loving it, but also way out of my comfort zone and hence emotionally stretched.

So in this state I headed off for Kiwi Foo, which I knew to be important both for me and my fledgling organisation, and where I knew no-one at all.

I was excited to the point of utterly wired, and just a smidge nervous (I am only admitting to the smidge. You may interpolate as you will. I’m not going there.). I arrived late at night and suffered some hiccups trying to get to my motel, but I managed in the end – somewhat rain soaked, and less than impressed with the rather dodgy motel, but I slept all the same. The next morning I met a bunch of strangers at the airport with whom I had arranged to share a car, and they were lovely.

Then we got to the conference where I registered with more lovely people, availed myself of coffee and started a range of conversations with fascinating, entertaining, and very lovely people. There was a whole lot of loveliness. Oh, and I checked into a lovely Airbnb with a stunning view, and the walk to the conference venue from my airbnb was (wait for it) lovely. Vertical. But lovely.

Did I mention, though, that I was already emotionally stretched? Friday night was awesome, and newcomers like myself could not have been more effectively & generously inducted into the ways of Kiwi Foo. I was made to feel welcome and valued and all good things. By the time I got back to my accommodation I was buzzing, and also feeling so emotionally stretched I was twanging. I really could have used a hug at this point – touch is very grounding for me – but I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask. So I continued to twang.

Saturday started well with a lovely breakfast and real coffee. (This is more important to me than it should be.)  The second session in the morning was a fascinating discussion about the ethics of AI, and there was such a large group we split into three smaller groups to talk it through. When the groups got back together to share our thoughts, I spoke for our group, on the condition that the others promise correct me or add to my comments if I missed anything. I covered the conversation in a fair bit of detail (brevity never having been my modus operandi), and then asked the group if I had missed anything?

To my surprise they gave me a round of applause, and then something magical happened. The guy standing next to me, who I had talked with a bit but barely knew, put his hand on my shoulder and said “You did great.”

It was such a small thing, and so fleeting. Just a brief hand on my shoulder. Just a hearty “nice work” with accompanying shoulder pat.

But we don’t usually do that anymore. We are afraid to touch. As a teacher, I was told emphatically I must never touch my students, lest it be taken the wrong way. We have pathologised touch. Rather than teaching about welcome and unwelcome touch, we have rewritten society’s rules to make almost all touch unwelcome, except between family or lovers.

That touch, though, stilled the twanging and made me feel wholly a part of the group. It grounded me and allowed me to relax into the conference and make the most of what was a truly extraordinary time. I doubt that kindly soul had any idea of the impact of a fleeting moment of contact, but it made a vast difference to me that weekend.

We are so busy guarding against inappropriate touch that we forget that touch is fundamentally important to our health and wellbeing.