Sometimes we just get it wrong. Despite doing our best and having all the good intentions in the world, we humans absolutely blow it. Take our current crisis and our response to it: “Social Distancing”. Great concept. Sounds wonderful. But it’s not really accurate. What we need is to be apart socially, but to be apart PHYSICALLY.
What’s the difference you ask? Let me paint a word picture:
You and I are in pre-COVID-19 days having lunch at Em’s cafe. We are connected socially, chatting away, separated by the width of a table. Due to the geometry of the way we sit, our faces are about two metres apart. We are physically separated. The person behind me, however, is almost touching me. They are facing their partner, deeply engaged in conversation with them. She and I are socially distanced, each of us caught up in a friendly discussion with our lunch-mate, but we are physically close. There is just enough space between us to that the back of our heads don’t touch should either of us get rather animated as we talk.
That’s the difference between social and physical distancing. That’s why I don’t see the term as being particularly useful. It doesn’t describe what we need to do. In fact, it gives us a completely incorrect way to deal with the situation.
Having church suspended, shops closed or businesses running with minimal staffing has isolated us both physically and socially. While being separated bodily is good for our overall health, being socially isolated is terrible for our emotional and mental well-being. God did not create us to be apart from one another. We were created to be in relationship with God and each other. Social distancing is the last thing we need right now, which is why I believe we’ve gotten the term so wrong.
What we need is to stay out of reach of physical contact while at the same time staying connected on a social, emotional and Spiritual level. Right now, more than ever, we need to support, encourage and to help keep each other from going stir-crazy. Maybe we can’t do so the way we used to: no chats with parishioners at Em’s for me, no parties, no church dinners, not even worshipping together. We have to keep our physical distance in order to keep each other safe and healthy.
Right now there is a lot we can get wrong in terms of putting ourselves or others at risk for the Corona virus. But there is a lot we can get right, like washing frequently and thoroughly, trying not to touch our faces, sneezing into our sleeves and, most importantly, staying at home unless absolutely necessary. For now, we have to keep our distance physically. But that does not mean staying apart socially. What we need to get right is keeping in touch with others, especially those who might have limited contact with the world. Not everyone has social media or even computers. So our phones have become ever more important. Conversations with our neighbours from the safety and distance of our own porches. Anything that allows us to connect with others emotionally and Spiritually is the right, good and even holy thing to do.