Don’t social distance. Physical distance

The term “social distancing” has been thrust upon us by media and medical health professionals. But is the term sending the right message?

Social distancing is, of course, the go-to defence against the COVID-19 pandemic. The term is generally taken to mean to stay six feet away from people that you don’t live with. This is to help avoid contact with droplets, that contain the virus, that are expelled from stricken people when they talk or cough. But some people are clearly, taking things too far as they try to manage the avalanche of information and their own outsized fears.

The weirdness of the pandemic and the countervailing measures has set in over the last few weeks for the good and the bad. I’ve chatted and exchanged pleasantries from my driveway or front yard with neighbours I never knew existed or haven’t seen in quite a while, as they walk the neighbourhood in their daily exercise outing. There is a form of comradery that has developed between us. A sort of “We are in this together” vibe. That’s the good part.

But in some people the social challenge we face has prompted a less useful response and have used the pandemic as a reason to withdraw from healthy social contact or just be a jerk.

One man I encountered at the entrance of a No Frills store I went to to get necessities was dressed in not one, but two masks. He had on surgical gloves, wrap-around sunglasses and a toque pulled down low, and was loudly berating the poor security guard hired to count shoppers. He was admonishing him for letting too many people in the store and let him know he was going to report the store, the guard, and all the people shopping for disobeying the “new rules.”

All this spoken from within two feet of the guard.

For the record, I thought the store was well organized with proper floor markings and informational signs and not crowded at all. The guard, bless him, was a model of restraint and just one of the many people who were trying their best to do what they needed to do in a tough place. He didn’t deserve the abuse.

There are always going to be a few jerks who are always going to look for ways to make themselves feel big by diminishing others and the pandemic just gives them the excuse.

But others are shortchanging themselves and the people around them more subtly by supposing that social distancing means they should wall themselves off from the rest of the world and not talk to friends, neighbours or family.

Even the most introverted of us can benefit from human contact. You may not know, but that nod or hello to a neighbour or friend can be a big boost for them in this challenging time. You might also discover that your own mood is lifted with a friendly chat.

It’s for this reason that the Canadian Medical Health Association (CMHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are encouraging the term “physical distancing” to better illustrate what we are being asked to do.

“We think that ‘social distancing’ sends the wrong message and is, in fact, the opposite of what we want people to do,” suggests the team at CMHA. “It suggests we should be turning inward and closing ourselves off from friends and neighbours in the outside world. However, we all need social connections to thrive during these uncertain times.”

So, while I heartily endorse efforts to keep yourself physically healthy, it need not be at the expense of your emotional health or that of others.

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