Opinion Piece

Social distancing reminds us that we’re in a period of time, that will one day be assigned to part of humanity’s history that we will look back upon and wonder what we learnt, whether we changed and in what capacity. It is a time that is asking us to live in ways that was beyond the limitations of our imagination. Or is it?

‘Social distancing’ which as it turns out is actually ‘physical distancing’, is presenting us with a plethora of challenges we hadn’t necessarily encountered before. In this article, I am specifically interested in this in the context of navigating public spaces. There are many people who are not even getting into those public spaces due to having to self isolate, alone, for 12 weeks! As this article goes on, please hold those people in mind.

The social awkwardness I’m observing as I’m out walking my dog opens up a space in my mind to ponder. The relational terrain in a public space has become complicated should there be someone coming towards you while at the same time, heaven forbid, there is someone also on the other side of the road. Socially awkward or what!!? Do we stop? Do we nervously giggle mumbling ‘social distancing’ blah blah (my favourite I must confess)? Do we walk in the middle of the road and nearly die? The fact that a number of people go for this option tells me how bloody uncomfortable the social interactions about how to do social avoidance while keeping a physical distance, really is.

So as I awake every morning and observe this in real time on my walk and I can’t help but ponder this notion of social and physical distancing from other humans through a trauma and social justice lens. Hey, this is my work, so literally everything passes through that lens before I get to it on any other level. So I’m here offering up some initial thoughts.

Here’s the thing; avoiding people, crossing the road from people, ignoring people and not knowing quite what to say to people is the experience of many people EVERY SINGLE DAY. Repeat that sentence again and hold it for a moment.

If you’ve ever been homeless you’ll have known what it is for people to look the other way or shuffle by you more quickly. If you’ve ever had a mental illness, you’ll have surely known people to cross the road. People experiencing racism have lived with social and physical distancing in unimaginable ways intergenerationally and ancesterally. If you’ve been in care, you’ll have seen discomfort in people’s eyes at various points in your life, if they stand close enough. If you been in the throws of addiction, you’ll be well aware that no one really wants much to do with you at all socially or physically. In this context, we might refer to it as ‘othering’ and of course, the list could go on and on. This is an opinion piece, not a Sociological essay so forgive my brevity.

So we are right to call what is happening right now in our societies across the globe ‘a community trauma’ AND we also right to develop a much deeper understanding of the impact of social and physical distancing intergenerationally and ancestrally on many people. We will live and behave differently after this. That is how trauma works.

We will be right to continue our appreciation for key workers, understanding that they have seen things that they will need time to heal from and integrate into their life experience. We will be right to say NO to Government ideologies that seek to add to this trauma rather than work towards recovering from it. We will be right to develop better practices, stronger communities and deeper ways of holding those in our communities who need us to stand next to them, on the same side of the road and close by.

The crisis might be Covid 19 but the opportunity is vast. As the empathy and compassion muscle strengthens once again in our society because we too have felt isolation and aloneness collectively. The opportunity is there to develop a much deeper understanding of trauma, how it impacts us individually, within our families and in our communities alongside what it requires for healing.

This is an ongoing conversation, discussion and collaboration.

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