Social Distancing or Emotional Distancing?

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I remember in 1999 when I had to care for a lad, who came down with chicken pox after he was sent home from the college. He had a wound that required pressing with hot water. I took care of him until exactly 21 days after the experience, I felt a slight increase in my body temperature. After diagnosis, I was told I had chicken pox infection. I proceeded into isolation in the Boys’ quarters. I was there for few days until my full recovery. The most interesting part of the story was my relationship with Lucky that was “strained” due to the need for social distance between us. Lucky would bring food for me but not shake me. I would make to hold him and he runs away. It was fun. Well, I got well and nobody had chicken pox after me in a house of about 18 people.

The pandemic of Covid-19 has introduced the new term social distancing into our daily lexicon. Prior to now, we had lived a communal life in Africa especially, where you may have handshake five times with a person in the course of a conversation. We reveled in the joy of association and communal living. In fact, according to Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart,
“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”
Our fear of the social media taking the place of our communal living was confirmed with the pandemic that has made the social media the main channels of interactions. By social distancing, it means increasing the social space to reduce the rate infections.

As social distancing has been prescribed as part of the measures to curtail the spread of this pandemic, I remember the chicken pox experience that helps me to appreciate the need to adhere to this measure. However, I thought to say that social distancing is not emotional distancing. I will point out few differences between the two social concepts.
“Out of sight is not out of mind” is the expression we use to let people know we may be socially distanced but still connected to them emotionally. Out of sight or touch is the best expression for social distancing. We see but limits our proximity bodily to ensure we both stay in health, while emotional distance could mean living together but abhors hatred toward each other. Such is the case already in the news as couples in some countries are already reporting domestic violence. This is a trying period for all but we must accommodate each other in love. The lockdown is not introducing anything new about our character but revealing what has been there all along.

While social distance is encouraged to keep us healthy, emotional distancing should be discouraged because it is the bond that holds us together as a people. Once we allow emotional distance, we are on the way to breaking down emotionally, because that will mean despondency for many people. It is time to build resilience. It is a component of emotional intelligence. This you can achieve through balanced dieting, exercising, meditation and professional developments.

It is time to take the lead by giving whatever you can to help others: your time, words of encouragement, support and anything useful. We need each other this time like never before. Be there for somebody rather than only expecting to receive.


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2 thoughts on “Social Distancing or Emotional Distancing?”

  1. Thank you for this very practical and inspiring piece sir.

    I am especially delighted at how you clarified the difference between social distancing and emotional distancing.

    Though it seems to me that we probably need to redefine social distancing itself. What we call social distancing might be better described as physical distancing, even when considered in the context of social gathering.

    We still need to be socially connected. I believe that even our interaction here is a form of social connection; just that it is not physical; it’s virtual.

    What do you think sir?

    1. You are very correct. While writing this article, a friend brought up the issue of the appropriate phrase and I told him the reason for using social distancing is to flow with the trend but of course, the right word should be physical distancing.

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