Recently, I spoke with a man who told me, “I have been practicing “social distancing” forever. Finally, it’s in vogue.”
Where to begin with this one? Where to begin on where we, as social creatures, now find ourselves. Where to begin around what is accurate and necessary here given the times, and when it is that what we are choosing is serving to justify and solidify exactly the wrong perspectives and practices. Ones that in the end will leave us diminished in health and happiness and even, interestingly enough, less safe.
We mean so much to one another. So much, in fact, that it is what can hurt us the most. It is what can render us suspicious of intimacy in our relationships, and generate fears around strangers and those different from us; leaving us to believe that it is far easier, and safer, to opt out of being in social connection.
Our underlying and unrecognized fears around being hurt and unsafe, and of hurting one another are surfacing now with great intensity through the accelerated experience we are all going through with the virus. It can be so difficult to sort fact from fiction. To sort healthy precautions from choices that emanate from old wounds and distorted childhood survival programming, along with culturally condoned and made-up fears.
It is interesting, disturbing and ironic that out of all the words that we could have chosen to describe an approach to slow the spread of the virus between us, that we have somehow chosen “social distancing” to describe something we already do quite well now. It is as if it was just there waiting to be named. Waiting to justify the social disconnections increasing at an alarming rate through the distancing ways we use the screen technologies and our overly busy and distracted lives.
Only now, we have safety reasons to bring this into vogue. For who could possibly argue with keeping our distance now? Who could possibly argue with the sentiments that are sure to continue on long after this is over that is is far safer to “connect” via a screen, at a “safe” distance, than in person, because after all, who knows what will happen between us?
Whatever it is that we believe here or feel called to do at this time, let us never forget that caring touch heals. Let us never forget that close proximity, where we literally sense the breath and heart rate resonance of another, regulates our nervous system; insulating us against stress while supporting our immune functioning. Let us never forget that the research on social connections reveals that social isolation and alienation are as dangerous to our health as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Let us never forget that those with the closest and most satisfying social bonds stay the healthiest, live the longest, and recover the fastest when ill.
Fears of being harmed. Fears of harming another. This is the dance we are all engaged in with one another, and at this moment in time, as our safety fears around others are being brought to the surface, we all have a choice. The virus has simply highlighted some things that have always been there. But the Truth is, we cannot afford to create any more distance between ourselves and others. We cannot afford more fear, mistrust or alienation. And we certainly cannot afford turning our relationships over to the machines, believing that that is what will keep us safe now.
What we do here matters. And not just over the spread of a virus. But over what it is that we will allow to take hold between us. What it is that we will allow to infect our minds about being in the presence of others. How we talk about this, the words we give it, all matter. A lot. Likely more than we know. Or maybe, are able to recognize given the fears we carry within.