How Social Distancing Is Re-inventing Our Social Species

Christyl Rivers, Phd.
6 min readMay 15, 2020

There are ways to open up, stay social, and still have a healthy populace

Empty train cars, Christyl Rivers

Our species, unmasked

We went to a local park yesterday, and I noticed most people were not wearing masks. This is somewhat disconcerting in an area where recently there was an outbreak cluster.

As we were leaving, we noticed two non-masked ladies.

“You’re still feeding the cats even after the park is closed?” My husband asked, as we approached.

“Of course, we are,” one lady retorted, sounding a bit defensive. She was working for a local charity that cares for homeless cats. This charity faces a fair amount of hostility in the public eye, already, because not everyone appreciates the cat colonies.

In a ‘normal’ world I would have walked up to her and stood just a foot or two apart to show that we are non-threatening, curious, and friendly.

But in this situation, we stood approximately fourteen feet apart, not the social norm with which our species evolved. We are a social species. The present pandemic unmasks this truth every day.

We chatted.

The tension lifted. She came to realize that although we wore masks and she did not, we were not trying to scold, or school her, in any way. We were, in fact, just wanting to thank her for her work. By the time we left we felt like old acquaintances, if not friends.

Why social distancing is all wrong

Asking why social distancing is wrong is a bit of a trick question. As it is presented, keeping away from other people in a pandemic is wise. People, as we know, are the primary vectors for infection.

However, we should be calling this practice physical distancing.

Physical distancing is the right thing to do. The term is more accurate for what we are trying to accomplish. We certainly don’t want to encourage social distancing, because social means interacting with other people. Creating bonds, both loose and tight, is especially crucial for our mental health in troubled time.

Social distancing is the wrong thing to do precisely because we must be…

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Christyl Rivers, Phd.

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.