Don’t Social Distance, Just Stay Apart

Image by Andreas Göllner from Pixabay

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in this worldwide pandemic, good manners, good hygiene, good science, and good sense demand that we keep our distance from each other—our physical distance. We are now living in a world apart from each other—or should be. But we don’t have to be isolated. Isolation and loneliness are not healthy. In fact, lack of social connection can be deadly.

According to studies, lack of social connection can be as unhealthy for you as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day or other high risk health factors like obesity and alcoholism. COVID-19 is serious enough. Unfortunately, we already had a worldwide epidemic of loneliness on our hands and the COVID-19 pandemic is exasperating it. We don’t need to add additional health risks to our lives. Distancing must take place for health and safety, but we should avoid isolation—like the plague.

In a World Health Organization daily press briefing on March 20th, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove stated, “. . . you may have heard us use the phrase physical distancing instead of social distancing and one of the things to highlight in what Mike [Dr. Michael Ryan] was saying about keeping the physical distance from people so that we can prevent the virus from transferring to one another; that’s essential. But it doesn’t mean that socially we have to disconnect from our loved ones, from our family. . . . We’re changing to say physical distance and that’s on purpose because we want people to still remain connected.”

Whether or not we realize it, our identity of who we are is to a great degree a reflection of the relationships we have with other people. Our concept of self is tied to our bonds with each other. To be denied that interaction is a challenge to our very identity. It is a deprivation of the nourishment our souls need. Introverts might argue otherwise, but even they need connection to other human beings from time to time. It is the emotional connection and embrace we give to each other that will get us through all of this in the current atmosphere of stay at home orders, shutdowns, and closures. Connection to others will keep us emotionally healthy, even if it doesn’t spare us infection from a virus. It can, however, strengthen our body’s ability to fight infection.

I have noticed some interesting things in my neighborhood as more and more people are being asked to stay home. For one, the number of people who are out walking the streets has significantly increased. I have also observed that many of those walkers seem oblivious to their physical safety as they amble down the middle of the street, as if it were one big blacktop sidewalk void of cars. The cars on the other hand are trying to maneuver down the road without causing any collateral damage. I wish I could tell those people that physical distancing from moving cars is also a healthy practice.

As people are out walking and practicing physical distancing (mostly), they are also doing something else. They are talking to each other, nodding and smiling, acknowledging each other as they pass, maintaining physical space but closing the emotional void. Even when words aren’t spoken, or perhaps when all that is said is a simple “hi,” there seems to be a connection being made. It’s as if, with a nod or a smile, they are saying, “I acknowledge you and our shared experience. We can get through this, together.” At least that is my experience. Not that I am a mind reader, but you can feel connection when it happens.

Paradoxically, there are also times when hardly a soul is to be found outside. The streets are empty and quiet—no people, no cars. It’s quiet and serene as people hunker down in their homes with nowhere to go now that so many places of business are closed by order of state and city officials. It’s at these times you can now hear birds calling and singing. You can hear the wind as it rustles through the trees. And you can hear yourself. Some people don’t want to hear themselves, but I think this is a mistake. There is so much we can learn about being happy if we learn to listen to what our soul or spirit is trying to tell us.  It’s a good time to start listening. Usually, the better we can hear ourselves, the better we can hear others. The better we can hear each other, the deeper the connections we make.

These are stressful times, even fearful times. But they do not have to be isolated times. We need to keep practicing physical distancing, but we should start drawing emotionally closer than ever before. We will get through these times by staying apart—together.

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