A Pandemic is a Confusing Social Experiment
The time we are living in is as confusing as it is uncertain.
When the pandemic first started, I would go for walks to get fresh air and runs to get exercise. Walking by other people, I would make eye contact, smile, and they would smile back at me.
Fast forward several weeks into the minimization of human contact, and now when I go for a walk or run, people who pass by me no longer look me in the eye. No smile on their faces, no happiness in their eyes, just moving on their not-so-merry way. Perhaps it’s because they are tired of the current self-isolation situation, or because no one can forecast when this crisis will end. Everyone around the world is eager to get back to ‘normal’ life. However, no one knows what that will look like.
Just last week, I went to go into my condo elevator and two men shot their hands up in front of me in protest. “Only two people in the elevator at a time,” one of them said, as he repeatedly pressed the CLOSE DOOR button. The door shut quietly in my face, almost as if in slow motion. I felt very rejected.
Not only is this pandemic draining much of our collective positive spirit, but it also appears to be dividing us. Whether we like it or not. And whether we are aware of it or not.
Conversely, there is mass cheering and clapping that happens throughout the city in recognition of frontline workers. In Vancouver, where I live, this is orchestrated every evening at 7 p.m. Pacific Time. In the first days of hearing the noise outside, I have to admit that I was somewhat judgmental. It seemed a little silly for people to be doing this. It only took a few days for my partner and me to realize how much this sign of encouragement means to the frontline workers. Now we are out on our balcony every evening at 7 p.m. clapping and cheering along with the rest of the city. I now have to say that it is one of the most unique and uplifting experiences I have had throughout this entire crisis. And humanity banding together in a time of crisis is what is needed in order for us to survive it.
I am torn about how I feel between the mixed signals and responses I am seeing and experiencing. On one hand, we are clapping and cheering strangers on, and on the other hand we cannot even make eye contact with one another. I cannot help but feel like this pandemic is a cruel and confusing social experiment and I am one of billions of test subjects.
So what is driving us to disconnect from one another? Our survival instincts are kicking in, combined with fear. The fear of getting sick, or getting an immediate family member sick, or the worst outcome, dying from this disease.
An obvious reality is that we all must look out for our own health. That means taking any precautions necessary to do so, like physical distancing. However, although we are distancing from one another, we should not be disconnecting from one another.
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Some believe this virus is a test on humanity by Mother Nature.
Others, including myself, believe that the virus is teaching humanity many things, perhaps without us even realizing it.
It is teaching us about strength.
It is teaching us about patience.
It is teaching us about gratitude.
It is teaching us about connection.
It is teaching us about resilience.
It is teaching us about generosity.
Above all, it is teaching humanity about love.
The love we have for our supportive partners. The love we have for our families, both immediate and extended, near and far. The love we have for our kind neighbors. The love that we have for the nurses taking care of those who are ill. The love we have for the grocery store cashier, risking their life coming to work every day so we can put food on our own plate. Even the love we have for strangers we pass by while out on a walk.
What we must all continue to remember is that measures of physical distancing from one another do not mean that we are disconnected as a human race. At the core of what it means to be a human being, the need for connection and love is a commonality we all share.
Let’s not let a little virus take that away from us.
Josh lives and works in downtown Vancouver and still smiles at strangers when he passes by them.