These are uncertain and unpredictable times. We are bombarded with messages that order us to practice social distancing in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, in a time when language is so important to maintaining our sanity and a positive outlook, many are urging us to top using the term ‘social distancing’ and start using the phrase ‘physical distancing.’ Even the World Health Organization has recognized that it is critically important for us to maintain social connection when we must limit physical contact with one another.
In this article, Dr. Kenneth Miller writes, “The growing recognition that social distancing carries psychological and physical health risks has led to a growing call to change the term to “physical distancing,” a recognition that what we need is greater physical distance between people, not great social distance… Let’s focus on reducing physical contact, while maintaining—to the extent possible—the social connections that help us thrive and stay healthy.”
In another article Kanter and Kuczynski share the following about the mandate to practice social distancing, “In times of societal stress, such a demand runs counter to what evolution has hard-wired people to do: Seek out and support each other as families, friends and communities… These connections are pivotal for responding to and maximizing our survival in times of stress.”
And thought leader Michael Lee Stallard speaks to relational connection, writing, “In cultures of control, the people with power, influence and status rule over others. Cultures of indifference are predominant today. In this type of culture, people are so busy with tasks that they fail to invest the time necessary to develop healthy, supportive relationships.”
In contrast, Stallard describes a culture of connection, where “people care about others and invest the time to develop healthy relationships, reaching out to help others in need… [where people] communicate, collaborate, cooperate, and work together toward a common goal.” I particularly appreciate the practical suggestions he offers to maintain connection that include pausing, learning something new, and supporting others.
From a Culture of Control to a Culture of Connection
So how do we move from a culture of control to one of connection? First, we need to come to grips with the things that we can control. One of my dear teacher friends @AngieMChurch shared the visual below, and I can’t help but think it’s perfect for people (like me!) who appreciate control and order.
U.S. Mental Health and First Aid posted this article about how to care for yourself while social distancing. The items listed include eating well, exercising, letting light in, staying connected, and monitoring media consumption- all of which seem like pretty simple things for us to do. But when we are in the midst of a pandemic over which we have no control, simple things can become monumental. Taking control of the things we can do to care for ourselves and others is critical.
Some of my favorite stories from this last month are ones highlightingthe creative ways individuals have connected with one another, like these people quarantined in Italy who are singing, exercising, and paying tribute to hospital workers on their balconies, or these families in Dayton, Ohio who organized “Chalk Your Walk” and “Going on a Bear Hunt” activities across the neightborhood, all while maintaining physical distance. One of my friends here shared that she has been taking her sons for a daily “sanity ride,” where they drive around town to get out of the house, and beep at neighbors as they pass their house. I am hopeful that more people share their stories of creative connecting as the weeks pass.
Personally, physical distancing (aka “working from home”) has forced me to do the thing I hate to do the most- slow down. In a 24 hour period, my entire workload shifted from in-person meetings to virtual video ones. While last Monday, Zoom conferencing was exciting and new, by Wednesday, that novelty had worn off. (I have a newfound admiration for people who work from home and spend their lives telecommuting!) Without the day-to-day situations that arise when students are in session, there is space for me to dig deeply into projects that require long blocks of uninterrupted time and sustained attention.
Today, I took my two sons to Minuteman National Historical Park in Concord, where we enjoyed a walk in the beautiful sunshine. Everyone there politely and without reminder maintained the ‘6-foot rule,’ a new expectation in public spaces. On our way home, the three of us reflected on how we each felt connected with the strangers who were also there to enjoy the spring afternoon.
I love that the Bo’ness Primary School in the United Kingdom posted the message below to families on its Facebook page, urging them to slow down and focus on comforting and loving their children, tending to their mental health, rather than worrying about academics right now. They write, “How [your kids] felt during this time will stay with them long after the memory of what they did during these weeks is long gone.” I’m almost certain that my kids will not remember which learning resources their teachers shared with them during this time, and I’m completely okay with that. Instead, I hope they recall a sense of solidarity within our family unit and with friends and family we connect with virtually in the midst of this pandemic.
When we all finally emerge from our homes when it is safe to do so, I hope it is the connections (virtual and otherwise) that you made with your family, friends, and loved ones that become the treasures you remember and take with you from this challenging time. Practice physical distancing, but stay connected. Take care of each other. Be well.