In this time of social distancing, where we are asked to stay away from everybody we are not living with, to curb an invisible but real enemy, it might be tempting not to abide by the rules and to create instead our own set of self-accepted, revisited, guidelines.
Loneliness is not easy. The restriction of freedom is uncomfortable. Space at home might be small. And we, humans, are smart—champions at illusion.
There are so many ways we can justify to ourselves to make a prohibited behavior acceptable, to make things that could possibly hurt the people we love an agreeable choice.
How we follow the rules and their impact on interpersonal relationships are particularly interesting to observe when it comes to family dynamics.
Every day since the beginning of the lockdown, I know for a fact that some adult children have started visiting their parents who have a beautiful bright garden, daily.
I know in contrast of others who live in the same building as their parents and that are still making a point not to see them before having self quarantined for two weeks. They grocery shop for them, leave the bags in front of the door and go away. They keep their interactions to balcony to balcony chats and phone calls.
On my hand, I am thousands of kilometers away from my parents.
My dad just got a major emergency surgery. I could not be there as travel is not permitted. To be honest, I probably would not have gone, unless tested and cleared, to avoid exposing my aging parents and their community to a possible virus. However, even physically separated, we have been in touch every day, thanks to the miracle of technology, the science behind our connected world.
I also have heard stories of COVID19 patients alone in the hospital, unable to receive visits from their family, even when profoundly heal, this for public health reasons. In these cases, healthcare staff have come out with the best possible solution, for lack of a better option: they are using tablets to help patients stay in touch with their dear ones via video chat.
As people, as social beings, we crave social interactions.
As privileged human beings, born in an era where we have never been more mobile and free, we are unsettled by the knowledge of not being able to go where we want, when we want. We are annoyed by the need to stay confined even if we would not be going out, anyway.
“Usually, everybody is inside stuck to their screen and now that we are told not to go out, everybody is out in the park” pointed out one of my best friends’ wife. I find this duality fascinating.
Why is it that we are doing this? Is it to be together? Or is it for another reason?
Let’s assume it is indeed to be together with the people we love. What really defines proximity to people? Especially in our times and age?
Is proximity being physically close to someone, at the risk of exposing that person to an invisible burden or is proximity doing what might not be the easiest, the most enjoyable thing to do, but what might be the best way to show we are here and that we care?
I think proximity comes from quality, from presence, from thoughtfulness. I believe that to be really present, to build quality interpersonal relationships, to demonstrate love, we have to approach our interactions from a selfless standpoint. Showing proximity to someone, being close is not to receive; it is mainly to give.
There will be a before and after COVID19. The world will change greatly. And maybe so will our vision of what defines proximity.
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