At this very moment in time, around the world, millions of people are adjusting to the restrictions that have been put in place by governments dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Those restrictions range widely in their severity and impact on all our lives both personally and professionally. But as we’ve all begun adjusting to these new norms in society, I’ve noticed a couple of behavioural changes.
Whilst there are some amazing acts of kindness happening around the world, it seems that in local areas and day-to-day essential activities many are misinterpreting the restrictions, leading to odd behaviour with people acting as if the following were true…
In a recent essential shopping run to a local supermarket, this belief appears to be taking hold. Our eyes are the windows to the world, as well as our souls as some might say. We need them to navigate the spaces around us. However, when standing in the 2m spaced queue waiting to be admitted indoors I made eye contact with a few individuals of varying ages and genders and noticed an increased likelihood of disengagement. I’m not suggesting that we should stare at each other, but actively avoiding eye contact seems to be on the rise as if holding gaze for a split second could breach the restrictions. This leads me on to the second observation…
With those people that did acknowledge my presence without staring at the floor, sky or blank phone screen, it seems that a heartfelt smile of support from me would do the trick. Instant disengagement… This is such a loss. Those people that acknowledged eye contact and returned my smile connected us in the challenges we’re facing. In a few examples, this also created an opportunity for a queue conversation in which we discussed our respective situations and put the world to rights, took part in some armchair politics, and even shared stories of corona hair cuts and tips on lockdown breadmaking. These conversations not only passed the time, but gave us the much needed social contact, albeit from 2 metres, that we crave as human beings.
Once again, the time came to do an essential supermarket run. I walked to the supermarket car park and on arrival witnessed the largest queue I’d seen to date. It stretched from the main door, around the perimeter of the car park, out onto the pavement, and down toward another parade of shops. With a resigned deep breath I wandered to the end of the queue. As I neared the end of the queue I could see that an elderly gentleman, somewhat frail-looking was attempting to pull a supermarket trolley up a curbstone onto the pavement. He repeatedly jerked the handle upwards, but not far enough, dropped the trolley back onto the road, winced his eyes in obvious pain, and tried again… Meanwhile, the three people already in line at the back of the queue watched on… and that’s all they did. I simply wandered over, told the elderly man to get in line, then once he had moved back, I lifted his trolley onto the pavement, using a foot so as not to touch the handle, and went to the back of the queue behind the gentleman as he grabbed the trolley with a smile. He was extremely grateful for the help and it was very little effort on my part. But, why did nobody else help? Were they afraid of losing their place in the queue? Did they feel they couldn’t help without breaking the 2-meter rule? The problem could have been solved in many ways and just needed compassion to outweigh the fear of helping and its perceived consequences.
So how can we negotiate the challenges that the restrictions on social contact bring? I’d suggest that we remember that the restrictions are called ‘Social’ distancing measures, and not ‘Anti-Social’ distancing measures.
I implore everyone to firstly, look up. Look around. Look at all of those people around you dealing with the same challenges. Some of those people may have it far easier than you, but some of those people may be dealing with problems beyond our imagination. Get a sense of who is around you.
Allow eye contact to happen naturally and smile. I’m not saying that you should stare at everyone and grin like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, but at least acknowledge their presence with kindness in mind. Many people are feeling isolated at the moment and refusing that social acknowledgement can make things worse.
If step one, looking around, and step two, making eye contact and smiling, go well. Why not see where saying “Hello” takes you.
We must all follow the rules but, whilst we do that, let’s try some ‘Very-Social’ Distancing with caution, but also with compassion…