Touch in Communication

Hi! Dr. Bob here.

You’re probably familiar with the old poem by Myra Brooks Welch, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” about an old violin whose value went up when a great violinist played it. I don’t have space to print it all here, but here’s a link:

The poem ends, “But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.”

Communication theory emphasizes the importance of touch in nonverbal communication. Lee Hopkins has a short article which may help with some background:

Nonverbal communication experts talk about negative touch, positive touch, power in touching (here’s a good summary: Touch is, of course, very powerful, and should be used well and wisely.

One of the beautiful things about touch is the use of it to express love and friendship. My dear mother-in-law Edith, 94, is a wonderful Christian woman. She was quite sick in the fall of 2009. She missed three months of meals in the dining hall of her retirement complex, where she had sat with her friends for almost 14 years. Many of her old friends were missing her, I could see. Just before Christmas, my wife and I went with her to her first meal, after a nearly three month’s absence from the dining hall.

How wonderful it was to see Edith’s friends come to greet her, shaking her hand, giving her a touch or squeeze on the shoulder or arm, or maybe a brief hug. The handshakes were more than that, as they held hands with her for a few seconds longer, welcoming mother back to the meals, which they had enjoyed together with her for many years.

“Helen Keller, famous blind author, once wrote that she could tell a lot about a person by just a handshake.” An article in “Fellowship,” Vol. 2 #128, continues that “it has been proven over the years that people who lack one sense often compensate through the other senses. Without doubt, the greatest hands of history are those nail-pierced hands of Jesus Christ. What an experience for “doubting Thomas” when the Lord said to him, “Reach here your finger and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.’” (John 20:27)


Hi, Dr. Bob here.

A common expression I’ve heard often is, “I hear you.”

The idea that strikes me every semester, when I teach Fundamentals of Communication, is the huge gap that exists between hearing, and listening. Have you ever thought about that?

If our ears are working properly, we can’t escape hearing many things. I hear the I-Tunes radio playing music right now, people walking by in the hall outside my office, somebody next door in the yearbook office whose desk hit the wall slightly. I have the added “advantage” of having tinnitus, so I hear a constant high-pitched frequency, similar to the sound we get sometimes from the older florescent light tubes.

Now I hear all of those things. But I had to separate each one of them and specifically listen, to be able to identify what the sounds were.

When I was young, my mother would say, “Bobby, are you listening to what I’m saying?” She wasn’t asking me if I heard her; she was asking me if I understood what she said, and was paying attention to her.

Successful listening begins with actively focusing our attention on the subject at hand. The pastor’s sermon, the teacher’s lecture, the map that will get us to our destination—all deserve active attention on our part. The magnifying glass can enlarge an image so that we can see it, when it’s in focus. It can also take the sun’s rays and focus them on a leaf, to cause it to burn—when it’s in focus. So our attention to what we hear causes us to listen more effectively.

I learned many years ago, that if I wanted to have a successful marriage, when it came to listening to the television, or my dear wife who had come in to ask me a question, that the TV had to go off, or at least on mute, and my attention needed to focus on what my wife was saying. It makes for a good marriage, better friendships, a better family life, and even better grades in school.

An old English nursery rhyme says,

“A wise old owl sat on an oak; the more he saw the less he spoke;

The less he spoke the more he heard; why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”

Active focusing of our attention is the most effective way to begin to improve the first half of our communication skills, that is, listening.

Jim and Jake

An old college and seminary friend of mine, James Lutzweiler, visited campus, resurfacing in my life after four decades. Jim’s an amazing person, with a world of experiences and gifts—a scholar, archivist, writer, storyteller, and the list could go on. We spent a few hours together during two days; we’re both looking forward to getting together in the future, but not waiting another forty years.

Jim told me an amazing story about an opportunity he had to witness—one of the reasons, no doubt, God gave us the gift of communication. I am thrilled to be able to share his story with you, in Jim’s own words.

“I am reminded of my late communist friend, Jake Cooper. (One can read a bit about him by googling ‘Jake Cooper Trotsky’).

Jake and I lived in the same town of Chaska, Minnesota, for many years, and we used to lunch together and talk reality. If you can believe in oxymorons, Jake was a millionaire communist – well, I never really saw his bank statement but he owned a large grocery store in town. Let’s just say that he was better off than most communists.

Jake had been a bodyguard of Leon Trotsky back in 1940. In fact, he was in Mexico with Trotsky when Trotsky was assassinated. I used to tease Jake that he didn’t do a very good job, and he countered with the fact that he was off duty that day.

In all events, one day I took Jake to lunch for the express purpose of asking him to abandon his vision of Trotsky’s utopia and to commit himself to the Kingdom of Jesus. He took my invitation very graciously but declined to do so because, as he put it, ‘I cannot believe in the resurrection.’ I asked him why he could not. He replied that there was no evidence for it.

Then I asked Jake what happens to a man when he dies. He replied, ‘Your lights go out and that’s it.’ Assuming that unlike us believers all good Marxists had marshaled strong scientific evidence for their beliefs, I asked him what his evidence was for that point of view. He paused for a moment and then replied, ‘Good point. I don’t have any.’ I suggested that he get some, as he needed evidence for his view just as I did.

I wish I could say that this utopian friend of mine had accepted my invitation. It is possible that he did after I moved away and lost track of him until I heard that one day he simply dropped dead in his fishing boat. I hope he was still pondering our talk that day. I know that one of his children was a believer.

I am still soberly pondering something Jake told me that day. He was sixty-seven years old at the time of my invitation and had lived in Chaska all his life. He said quite gratefully, ‘You are the first person in sixty-seven years to ask me to become a Christian.’ At the time there were at least a dozen churches in town and maybe two dozen. I am staggered at that revelation and often muse about what kind of opium those churches are on. I don’t want any of it mixed with the brand I snort.

What is troubling is 67 years old and first time . . . .”

Jim’s story also appeared in The Biblical Evangelist

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