Slowly, very slowly, the world is rediscovering itself. We have gone through over a year of quarantine, lock-down and isolation. This is one of the few, perhaps the only news items that has touched literally every continent, country and county on Earth. More people on the planet know about Covid 19 than know about the Pope, US president or, dare I say, Cher. As a result, I believe that nothing will have a greater impact on those of us who have lived through this than any known global event. It has changed us in so many way. For me, one thing is certain: this has changed our social relations forever.
There has always existed distrust of others, especially strangers. It’s a protection mechanism that’s wired into our DNA. We hold back initially, until we feel more secure. However, now there is a fear of being physically close to people, even people we know because they ‘might’ be carriers of this virus. People’s anxiety levels have risen. In an effort to keep ourselves informed, many of us have become over informed and have heard so many opinions that we don’t know where to turn. This has been a year that has upended so many social conventions and regular norms that our social emergence and rediscovery will be long. It will take a long while before we can feel comfortable again in our own skin, let alone being close to the skin of others. We have spent a year looking only into the eyes of people that we see on the street, in the shops and at work. We’ve often had to guess the reactions of others from only the upper part of their face. Many times I realized that the polite smile I was offering to people on the street or in the grocery store was shielded by my facemask.
I know I am not alone in the feeling that my personal space has been ‘violated’ more often this year but that’s because my sense of what is a ‘proper distance’ has changed. People we would have given a hug to in the past now receive a polite nod, an elbow bump, perhaps a bowing reverence. We screen who we allow into our homes. We screen places where we must enter asking ourselves if they really have ‘disinfected’ the place and wondering exactly how they did it. Do I have my facemask on correctly, have I sanitized my hands with washing or alcohol? I can’t imagine the challenge for parents of young children who are want to touch and lick almost everything they see. I’m sure some children think their real name is ‘Don’ttouch’ and ‘Keepoff’.
As time has passed most of us have come to terms with the health precautions and we have adapted ourselves to what we consider our own personal level of risk. While I haven’t returned to being the hugger that I used to be, I do hug some people who are close and with whom I feel a level of comfort. And I am perfectly fine with others choosing their own level of comfort. It’s a very personal and family choice. While I don’t feel it’s yet time to get rid of the masks, it’s not my job to go about policing others in their choices. Most of the members at the gym I attend do not wear a facemask while working out. It’s not mandatory here. The staff has opted to wear masks and so have I. And that is okay. If it really bothers me, I have the option of not going to that gym. I don’t have to impose my will or what I think is the ‘correct’ thing to do. Same thing at our twelve step meetings. We sit ‘socially distanced’ and it’s up to the individual whether or not they choose to wear masks. It’s not up to me to judge the actions of others. My opinion is not necessary and not necessarily wanted.
I suspect that even after we receive the ‘all clear’, if we ever do, there will be people who will continue to wear a facemask when out in public. That is their choice. It wasn’t that uncommon to see a person in the streets wearing one before the pandemic. How we greet others in the future will probably not go back to the effusive hugs and kisses for most people either, which for some will be a great relief anyway. Our sense of personal space will also be much greater for many years to come, especially when meeting someone new.
Give people time to adjust to their new sense of what’s right, appropriate and comfortable, even with families and close friends. Our sense of trust has been altered, perhaps for the next generation. We will need to be sensitive to the needs of others and learn to pick up on new social cues as to what others are comfortable with. It’s probably a good idea to ask before lunging in for a hug. If you’d like a hug, ask for one.
Humans need physical touch to thrive. These past 14 months have put a great strain on everyone, all around the world. It’s going to be a long while too before we adjust to these changes in how we relate to each other in this new emergence into post-Covid living.