Why Social Distancing Feels Wrong

The author hiking the Sawmill Park trail in The Carson National Forest

I think it only fair to let everyone know that I am not social distancing. Here’s why.

Shakespeare may have famously written “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but not so with every word in the English vocabulary.

For example, according to Webster’s dictionary, the word “cheap” can mean worth more than it cost or inexpensive due to inferior quality. Which kind of cheap car/vacation/meal would you rather receive?

Being here in the quiet tranquility and solitude of the mountains, it might look like I have achieved the perfect solution to social distancing. The problem with that assumption is that it’s wrong.

According to Webster’s dictionary, the word “social” means marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates. Another variation of the definition is of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society. When we then consider that the meaning of “society” is an enduring and cooperative group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another, it leads me to believe that a society cannot exist in an environment of social distancing.

Fortunately, that’s not the same as saying physical distance might be beneficial in certain situations, such as when the spread of disease seems likely.

But removing ourselves from the society and fellowship of others is not how man was meant to exist. Isolation leads to loneliness, depression, suicide, addiction, and more. We are trading one disease for another—one global pandemic for another.

And let’s not forget about the need to be aware of others’ suffering and the desire to do something about it.

This is compassion, and it is the key to sustaining society.

We won’t have a desire to do something about a need of which we aren’t aware.

Is it possible we can harm our ability to feel compassion through too much literal social distancing?

To use the term “social distancing” implies the need to avoid interaction with and the companionship of others. It suggests disengaging ourselves from society. And the result will be a growing lack of compassion for the suffering of others.

Even the most independent among us don’t really want to live in a compassionless society.

But what do we do when the guidelines say we should be social distancing?

First, we stop referring to it as social distancing. Social distancing is when you don’t get invited to the party. Social distancing is being made to feel like the unwanted outsider in junior high. Instead, refer to it as “physical distancing.”

Second, we go out of our way to be social. Let’s greet everyone we meet in genuine happiness—from a safe distance if need be—remembering they are walking through these crazy times just like we are. We don’t know what baggage they carried with them as life forced them onto this journey. Be intentional about reaching out and checking on friends or just wishing them a blessed day. Perform an act of kindness, preferably one that can’t be returned, for a stranger. Or even better, someone whose views and opinions might differ from your own.

Stop looking at others as though they are the problem and do something that says, “I see you and we’re in this together.”

Write a note or send a text. Offer to pick up groceries for someone who’s unable. Make a point to be as social as possible through whatever means are available…phone, internet, or six feet apart in the grocery store parking lot.

Personally, I may be somewhat of an introvert who enjoys her alone time, but I would wither and dry up in an environment of complete social distancing. I need to see the light of love in your eyes and feel the joy of your smile. I can do that from a physical distance but not from a social one. I want to be a friend who recognizes when you are lonely, fearful, angry, or uncertain. I can do that, too, from a physical distance but not a social one.

Scripture tells us it is not good for man to be alone. This is true even for an introvert like me, so take this message as an invitation to connect with me—to maintain or grow in our social closeness no matter how great the physical distance.

Physical distance all you feel necessary.

But refuse to fall for the idea that social distancing is a solution.

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