It happened while I was in my dentist’s chair. The bright light was shining in my face as I endured another round of repairs on my front teeth, broken out over forty years ago when I was ten years old. Over the years, I had finally developed a suitable coping method that included self-hypnosis, nitrous oxide, and a rockin’ playlist in my ear bud. With this safe retreat, I could remain semi-present to the shots, cuts, drilling, hammering and grinding. While undergoing my second or third casting of the day, as Christie was holding the form in place, something remarkable happened. She gently reached up and removed a piece of casting material stuck on my upper lip. Her gentle manner was like that of a mother caressing a baby or an artisan tending to a precious treasure. At once everything changed. I was no longer suffering through the tormenting drudgery of restoring my fractured smile, I was receiving care. Decades of trauma dissolved.
Such is the power of a gentle touch, a caring word, a moment of concern. So effective is this power that it must be corrected for in clinical research. We are all familiar with the Placebo Effect, the phenomenon that what a person thinks will make them better sometimes does. Most are less familiar with its crafty sibling The Hawthorne Effect, wherein subjects respond positively simply because of the sense that someone cares. Progressive providers are learning to utilize this effect as a dynamic factor in treatment to produce greater health outcomes.
Modern research is revealing that this effect produces much more than just as sense of confidence and well-being. It actually reduces the stress chemistry in the body and lowers the presence of inflammatory proteins that lie at the root of many degenerative and immunity-related diseases. Simply stated, caring is the first act in initiating healing. A “spoonful of sugar” may help the medicine go down, but “sweetness” is a medicine, and empowers every other medicament employed.
This power is not limited to the recipient, but benefits the provider as well. Caring creates a bond, a degree of personal intimacy known to release internal chemistry that brings greater cohesion to the entire organism. Additionally, evidence is suggesting that simply holding a caring disposition may lengthen our lives by reducing the rate at which the telomeres, our DNA “candle-wick” recedes. Perhaps our motif of the kind elder is borne less through the artifact of gentility through aging and more from longevity through gentility. With all these benefits, one may seek to be on both the giving and receiving end of compassionate care, epitomized as self-care.
The most remarkable thing about this healing power is that everyone possesses the ability to use it. It is absolutely free. It costs nothing to show kindness and caring in word and deed, nothing but our desire to do so. It is the greatest of social contagions. Every caring act fosters a sense of gratitude within the recipient, a stimulus for future compassionate actions. This may yield a domino-effect that tumbles forests of unknown suffering.
Christie probably wasn’t even thinking of this when she acted in her special way. She was simply responding to a need. Yet, in doing so she started a wave of benefits, likely affecting those she will never know. Truly, we cannot measure the depths of this effect, but in holding compassionate thoughts and acting with care, we can choose to employ it.
Timothy L. Trujillo