April 03, 2020 A. Frank Smith

Together Apart

Together Apart

With the declaration by the governor that we should all stay at home as much as possible, the fear and uncertainty is given free rein to grow and the anxiety levels increase. We have been told "Social Distancing" is the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19, but I think that's wrong. I think "Social Distancing" is the last thing we need right now.

I'm not against us staying home. I'm against the term "Social Distancing." We need PHYSICAL distancing to limit the spread of this deadly disease, but we need "Social Closeness" more than ever right now.

I can't think of a worse time to close church facilities than in the midst of a crisis. History is replete with examples of people deriving comfort and assurance by joining with their family and friends as part of a worshipping community. For many people, their main social outlet is derived from the people they encounter at church. We were made by God to be social creatures.

Isolation may be good for our bodies (as far as contracting an illness is concerned) but it is horrible for our spirits and our emotional well being. Isolation is used as punishment. It's not because it's bad for the body, it's bad for the soul.

We need Physical Distance but Social Closeness

How is that possible?

Social closeness can be accomplished over physical distance. It has been happening for hundreds of years. Letters have been sent back and forth between people when they were separated by a distance. Often times there would be weeks or months before a return letter was received, but the anticipation of the letter often kept up the spirits of those who were apart.

With the advent of the telegraph, a new era of Social Closeness over physical distance developed due to the rapid response that was possible. Suddenly what used to take months took only hours. Then the telephone made it possible to actually "be present" with someone who was far away. The sound of another person's voice was as socially close as you could get without physically being there.

In this age, we have instant communication with just about anybody in the world. Between email and text messages we have made the writing of letters obsolete. With Facebook and Twitter, we can share things with others at the speed of light from anywhere in the world. And yet, in this time of isolation, we still feel "Socially Distant" from others.

We need to be together apart

I would suggest that while emails, texts, and social media are great advances in many ways, they have also brought us backward in terms of social closeness. Email may be faster than letters, but they don't have the same emotional impact as a letter. When you receive a physical letter from someone you experience a physical connection with something the other person physically touched. You know the person spent a great deal of time thinking about you as they physically wrote the letter. You can see places where they scratched out something or how their writing got smaller as they realized they were running out of paper. It feels like human interaction in ways that flashing electrons on a computer screen can never provide.

The person who sent the letter doesn't just feel the connection to you for the time they are writing it, but they repeatedly think about you receiving the letter and while anticipating a return letter from you. This deepens the social closeness despite the physical distance.

Hearing someone's voice connects people in ways no email, letter, text, or cute cat video, ever can. We were taught in preaching class that only 15% of our communication is through the words we use. 85% comes through the social cues people receive from our inflection, pacing, emotion, volume, and motion. Words on a page or screen can be easily misunderstood, but the emotion that a voice carries draws us in past the words to the heart. This is why I believe phone calls (I include video calls as well) are the best avenue to increase Social Closeness over Physical Distance.

So what do we do about all of this?

Since we need to maintain our Physical Distancing for the next several weeks, we need to be intentional about increasing our Social Closeness. I have two suggestions:

Write a letter each day

It doesn't have to be a long letter. It just needs to let the other person know you are thinking about them. Inquire about their family. Share a story of something silly you did yesterday. Tell them how much rain fell last week. What the letter is about is almost inconsequential. The letter is about building Social Closeness over Physical Distance.

Call two people each day

Again, it doesn't have to be a long call. Ask the person what their favorite dessert is. Be Positive. Tell about the latest GOOD NEWS you have heard (sharing "doom and gloom" won't be uplifting). Share your favorite memory of the two of you. Remember, it's only 15% about what you talk about, the biggest part is connecting past the information to the heart.

Our response to the Coronavirus can help increase Social Closeness

If we are intentional about building Social Closeness, we will come through the Physical Distancing as better people. We will be closer to each other and closer to God, all while staying away from each other (physically).Together Apart.