I was listening to Sylvia Boorstein's podcast yesterday while driving in my car. The title of the talk was "I talk to my friends". This was said in the context of what one does when one is discouraged. She also spoke of holding hands as a manifestation of our human need for connectedness.
I started to think about what this means for us as communities struck by the swine flu and social isolation as a preventive measure. Some officials are even asking us to modify the way we greet each other in order to minimize the chances of exposure. I myself have advocated for low thresholds for keeping us socially contained by school and business closures in favor of distance learning and working.
But what are the implications of this for our human need to be a part of the community, to talk to our friends and to hold hands? Do I really want to forgo contact in order to reduce the chances of contracting the illness to near-zero? And more importantly, what kind of a message will the government be sending by advocating this behavioral modification?
It feels to me that now more than ever before in human history we as individuals are isolated from one another. This is facilitated by our computer-centric culture, our fear of being outdoors, our apprehension of appearing weak, and a host of other factors that people far smarter than I can recount. So, do we really need to feel that our neighbors present an even greater danger to us now than before H1N1? Do we need to erect better fences in order to make even better neighbors and lose all sense of community?
I will be honest: I do not have the answers to these questions. Perhaps I just need to keep in mind that the isolation will be temporary, and that afterwards we will get back to talking to our friends and holding hands. It just seems like this pandemic is conspiring to drive us humans even farther apart than we are now.
Crisis is difficult, but it is also an opportunity: communities can choose to fall apart or to become stronger. It is up to us to choose the latter.