Someone much smarter than me suggested there is much more resistance to the phrase “social distancing” than there would have been had we chosen to call it “physical distancing.” I wish I could remember who said it or where I heard it, but I think that person is right. The distinction operates on the subconscious, emotional level where it seems many people live these days.
First, people are not really wired to be socially distant. We are often described as “social animals.” We can exhibit everything from a “herd mentality” to hunting in packs. Social outcasts are “lone wolves.”
This language underlines how dependent on one another we all are. In earlier societies, exile was often considered a harsher punishment than death, reserved for the most heinous crimes. We really do need to belong to a community. We really do need each other.
Next, we don’t need to be socially distant to prevent the spread of COVID-19; we need to be physically distant. At least six feet apart. Keeping ourphysical distance doesn’t mean we have to feel socially isolated. We have any number of options for connecting to people we can’t reach out and touch.
In the old days, a letter might take months or years to reach the intended person. We think of texts, email, and applications like Instagram as instant messaging. With FaceTime, Instant Meeting, and Zoom, we can even see the people we are talking to, even if they are in another part of the world. And let’s not forget the telephone. It still lets us have one-on-one conversations with some degree of privacy.
But even in this age of miracle communications, some people remain isolated because of physical or mental challenges—or simply from a lack of sufficient broadband access. We should remember to reach out to these people…from a safe physical distance.
This article appeared in the Cameron Herald, July 30, 2020 edition, p. 2.