So, a whole lot of us are quarantined. We’re keeping to ourselves – stay home and stay safe. I know I am.
Staying home, with the intention of staying safe, that is.
And as we marinate in our enforced isolation, kept from each other by a combination of intention and necessity and concern for the welfare of others, a lot of us are chafing at the separation. Understandable. Intensely social people are really suffering, right now, and I feel for them. On the other hand, I suspect that this time of deliberate distance is actually going to help us come up with some new ideas that just might really help.
I’m not saying this because I’ve watched too many “fun stuff during quarantine” YouTube videos. I’m not saying it because it’s what other people want to hear. And I’m certainly not saying this out of some woo-woo “pie-in-the-sky” manufacture optimism. That’s the farthest thing from what I do with my thinking process.
I am saying it, because human beings are exceptionally adept at using distance to our benefit. Our nervous systems, after all, are chock full of gaps — synapses between the neurons that transfer information about, well, everything, from sensations to emotions to impulses to move. In fact, our nervous systems wouldn’t even work the way they do, if it weren’t for distance. We need the minuscule gaps between our neurons to let our neurotransmitters work their biochemical magic and pass enriched information across the space between them. It’s the biochemicals that not only strengthen the signals running down the “wires”, but also add certain qualities to them.
Serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine, and more… They all serve to bridge the gaps between our neural cells, and they literally are what make us the kinds of humans we are — happy, sad, depressed, euphoric, etc. Because an electrical signal on its own just won’t do.
So, distance is something we need. And look at all the videos and social media posts about people creatively bridging distance. The elderly man who presses a hand-made sign against the window of the hospital, thanking the ER staff for saving his wife… The neighbors conversing and telling jokes to each other via signs taped to their windows… The music people are creating independently in different locations and then mixing into a common song. And so many people are touched so deeply by these displays, these creations, these expressions…
Distance sharpens our need to connect. It deepens our drive to merge with others. It pushes us to find all new ways to close the distance. Over and over and over. Until we manage to at least have the experience of direct connection. We have to have it. We crave it. And we will do just about anything to bridge those gaps. Creatively. In ways that might actually work.
We’re forced to think outside the box, to get our deepest needs for connection met. And a downstream effect of that change in thinking style is that not only our connection thinking changes, but other thinking changes, as well.
So, we get more practice at thinking creatively in all new ways. Because we have to.
And that’s why I think — based on what I know of the human condition, as well as what science knows of our neurology — this distancing we’re going through is going to turn out to be an investment in the long-term human spirit, not just a waste of time.