I love when someone says something that brings clarity.
One of my favourite educators, Tim Elmore, made the valuable distinction between social distancing and physical distancing in a recent episode of his Leading the Next Generation podcasts.
What Elmore observed is that "social" distancing—a term being widely communicated during this season of pandemic—is actually not a good description of what we're being asked to do, and may even be harmful for our mental health.
What he's referring to is this widespread sense of unease as we try to cope with our new pandemic-influenced reality, and how that translates into how we interact with each other.
Or perhaps even how we ignore each other.
You may have experienced, like I have, people literally turning themselves away as they pass by. No eye contact. No acknowledgement.
It’s an unsettling experience.
The distinction Elmore makes so well is that this is absolutely a time for "physical" distancing.
We need to make a concerted effort to put more space than we're used to between each other to "flatten the curve" of COVID-19, limit exposure, and keep cases to a trickle rather than a river until a vaccine is available.
However, while all of that is true,
social engagement and relational closeness are more important than ever.
I was impacted by this idea again as I listened to a podcast interview by Tim Ferriss with Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. Surgeon General.
What I found so relevant in that interview was the idea that, in this cultural moment, we're experiencing a loneliness crisis on a global scale.
Loneliness—a lack of meaningful connection with others—impacts us physically, in terms of our health and longevity, but also—and this is especially relevant when we think about incarceration—in Dr. Murthy's words:
loneliness is "a root cause and contributor to many of the epidemics sweeping the world today, from alcohol and drug addiction to violence to depression and anxiety."
So, let me encourage you today to recognize the distinction between "social" distancing (harmful if taken literally) and "physical" distancing (essential in flattening the COVID-19 pandemic curve).
Perhaps you can be a catalyst for helping the people around you experience connection in creative ways.
In fact, I’ll end with this:
Dr. Murthy, in his book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, recommends four key strategies to "help us weather this crisis, but also to heal our social world far into the future."
Spend time each day with those you love. Devote at least 15 minutes each day to connecting with those you most care about. (In this season of pandemic use the ‘tools of connection’ - video, phone, conversation with appropriate physical distance).
Focus on each other. Forget about multitasking and give the other person the gift of your full attention, making eye contact, if possible, and genuinely listening.
Embrace solitude. The first step toward building stronger connections with others is to build a stronger connection with oneself. Meditation, prayer, art, music, and time spent outdoors can all be sources of solitary comfort and joy.
Help and be helped. Service is a form of human connection that reminds us of our value and purpose in life. Checking on a neighbour, seeking advice, even just offering a smile to a stranger six feet away, all can make us stronger.
Wishing you well,
General Director | Lead Chaplain