Why social distancing will be a missed opportunity

Why social distancing will be a missed opportunity

April 22, 2020
Reading Time: 7 minutes

It's a weird time to be alive. Even the generations that have experienced war and famine are scratching their heads in bemusement as they stare down the barrel of another three to twelve weeks of being confined to quarters.

One thing to have come out of all of this is something that the more cynical of us have found both surprising and heartwarming; humanity really can band together in difficult times. And as people who spend more and more time online, declaring our quasi-expertise on the trials and tribulations of society as we know it, it's been refreshing to bear witness to the somewhat universal indifference to politics, religion, cultural differences and any number of typically polarising areas of day to day life. And it's little wonder, day to day life is, for the most part on hold.

Communities throughout the world have kind of blended into one. The social noise and political discourse have subsided and the world is actually pulling together.

The human race loves conflict, it thrives on opposition and now, for the first time in years, we all have a common enemy. And if we continue to pull together, humanity won't be the winner, community and cooperation will.

Social distancing has given us all a wonderful opportunity. One that we've always had but all ignored. To finally be mindful. Mindful about the world around us, the people around us, and the communities that we're part of. But most importantly, how everything around us has adapted.

Yet, throughout all of this, despite the way we've all pulled together in ways we frankly needed years ago. We still remain hopelessly committed to social traits that will ultimately thwart the progress we've made in mere weeks. Normality, like life, finds a way.

But what if we could use this time to change our ways? What if we took the time to look at ourselves and the world around us and just take stock.

The advantage to social distancing is to seize the opportunity for insight and self care and actually distance ourselves from, well, everything. We find ourselves in an interesting position. One where we don't need an excuse to take a step back from our usual cohorts and just take a moment to breathe. All relationships have the ability to become toxic over time. We can lose ourselves in other people's ways and adopt their clumsy mindsets. Friendship groups become co-dependent, almost socially inept beyond their own pack. We remain hyperfocused on the superficial and fail to truly look inside ourselves and assess our own wellbeing.

I've often worried that people don't take enough time out to assess themselves and make sense of the way they feel right here right now. It's easy to spend time apart from people but this is the modern world where proximity and distance are no longer related. We spend almost every waking moment communicating in one way or another whilst simultaneously failing to articulate ourselves enough to avoid conflict. The borderless societies of the future that some people dream of may already be here but it came at a price. The spectacular rise of the technologies of today and the convenience they bring have taught us all the language of data and has turned real human beings into numbers on screens. And we're all culturally incentivised by numbers and lust for more.

So despite being homebound and segregated from our usual companions, we may actually be in more contact with people than normal. We finally have the time that we spent so long convincing ourselves that we didn't, to give old friends and family the time of day. But in your moments of reconnective delight, you may be remaining altogether ignorant of one specific person. Yourself.

No, this is not going to become an argument for finding your 'true self' or the benefits of becoming a hermit. Just a brief examination of what may be the most unique opportunity of a generation. An indiscriminate opportunity presented to us all. An opportunity to think about how we have all become wonderfully and terrifyingly ridiculous. And of course how we can reflect on things to build better worlds for ourselves and our children.

It, of course, starts with the kinds of questions we know the answers to but try our hardest not to think about.

How often do you leave your phone at home? How often do you take an hour just for yourself? How often do you think of people that make you unhappy or frustrated? How often do think about why you feel the way you do?

Our lives have become excitable and overwhelmed five-year-olds in a noisy arcade. The lights of hundreds of different machines are flashing in sync with their own music and the screens are a blur of different characters and narratives, all promising rewards. It's exciting and addictive and you can't wait to try everything out. But the arcade is closing in an hour and everything will be replaced by tomorrow. You scramble to experience everything that there is on offer but it's just too much for such a short space of time and you can't possibly do everything.

We live in a busy world, one in which we cannot possibly give our attention to every single thing. So we try to prioritise. We make time for the things that matter to us, or at least we try to. But we always forget ourselves. We forget to take the time to actually enjoy the experience of life. It's a miracle that you're alive at all, so why aren't you making time for yourself in the fleeting moments of the only life you'll ever live?

There's finally time for you. Finally time to think about the life you lead and the people you've met. Finally time to think about what makes you unhappy and how you can change it. But like all the luxuries of our world, there is of course a price.

Eventually, we have to acknowledge our own part in things. Our own failings and with that comes guilt and an obligation to change. We realise that we're part of some of the problems of our world and that we're complicit in the things that cause harm.

There are difficult questions ahead and even harder tasks to right the wrongs. You may find your relationships cause you unnecessary stress or that your socioeconomic circumstances are not what you originally thought. But change is hard, memories are blinding and habits return.

We can shake off our realisations and return to what we know. Or we can risk the change and work towards a different world. One that came out of social isolation wiser and remembers Covid19 as a lesson, not an interruption.

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