Physical distancing is not social distancing.
In these tremendous days of pain for the whole world, I have heard so often politicians and people using the expression ‘social distancing’ to indicate the restrictions imposed on the movement of people. The fact that everybody should remain principally confined at home and limit their non-essential travels are key in order to tamper the spread of the virus, this is unquestionable. However, I don’t think the words used to capture the reality of things, rather they risk being detrimental in the process of psychologically dealing with this period of difficulty. Wording matters, because it creates the reflex of the world we tend to see and it shapes our attitude and behaviors, the reality is constructed on the words and language we use. Here, it is imperative that social distancing is separated and differentiated from physical distancing, which is actually what authorities are referring to and what we are called to put into practice. They are two very different concepts.
In these days, in fact, it becomes more important than ever that we maintain our social self as a united society, as an interconnected community of human beings and caring minds. This is so necessary to spread the peace and hope that everybody of us needs to face this painful situation. While physical distancing is what we are called to do, social closeness must be instead reinforced, as a necessary remedy to heal the wounds that the pandemic is leaving on each of us. We need each other, united and connected, as never before. We need it for others because nobody has the right to feel lonely without wanting it. We need it for us, to sustain our walking one another, especially in the darkest moments of discomfort and profound sorrow. Especially, we need it for the most vulnerable, for whoever has lost somebody due to the virus, for whoever is spending their days alone, for whoever feels lost and is about to collapse. ‘We’ can be that remedy, but only stressing social nearing.
Social distancing is far different from physical distancing. We are not called to disconnect, rather to strengthen our bonds, remembering how much we need each other to be resilient to adversities. Ubuntu is an African philosophy according to which ‘we became who we are through others’, a saying that encapsulates the synergies stemming from humans’ connections in the singular self-realization of individuals. We cannot escape such interrelatedness to be truly happy, and the time given to us by the virus must make us rediscovering and focusing even more strongly on this social power. We must not let this crisis breaking us, rather this must be seen as an opportunity to make us, to be caring and safe, together. Today we have the possibility to foster our social unity even more, through and thanks to the means we have. Technology has put in our hands, incredible channels to maintain and strengthen such bonds. This process is massively taking place already. To how many of you happened during quarantine days to spend hours and hours talking with people you had not the chance to consider for a while? Social closeness is already happening. But we have to be conscient of its difference with what we are told to do, and what it risks to project in our way of being, namely to stay home, to isolate ourselves, to be in pain for the loved ones who are far. Isolation of bodies must not coincide with the isolation of minds. We can connect, comfort, create, and get empowered, but only together. Only by fostering our social closeness, our inner Ubuntu, we can alleviate the sufferings of this terrible outbreak and fill the holes and heal the wounds left by physical distancing. This is necessary if we want to get out of this epidemic as stronger human beings making part of a more resilient human community.