Over the past three weeks, I’ve noticed something new when I’m out for a run, a walk or a scooter stroll with my boys. Instead of a “hello” or a friendly head nod, the smiles I offer to others while I’m out and about are met with downward glances, darting eyes that avert my gaze, or even turned backs. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure, yet in this time of fragility and mass distress, even seemingly insignificant encounters such as this leave me feeling empty, even shunned.
Are we all so emotionally drained that we’re forgetting common courtesies? Are we afraid that by opening our mouths to say “hi” we will invite the virus into our body? I say neither–I believe it’s more likely that we are just so unfamiliar with how to deal with the new rules we’re all living under that we simply shutter ourselves to the outside world, even when that world is more than a safe six feet away.
I’m writing to ask all of us to soften ourselves, instead of hardening ourselves, to our neighbors. In this age of travel restrictions and social distancing, our neighbors are the only people most of us will physically engage with for the next month. Now that we’re home more with literally nowhere to go, we have that much more time and opportunity to engage with each other, albeit from an awkward distance.
What if all made the extra effort to give someone a smile, a friendly wave, even asked their name? Maybe we could all go as far as a passing cyclist did today when she stopped to comment on our freshly drawn chalk artwork and encouraged my boys to keep making such beautiful pictures. Let’s look at our neighbors in the eye as they pass and share a simple hello.
We’ve been social distancing for almost three weeks now, and we have at least four more to go. That leaves plenty of time to form new habits. Instead of beginning to withdraw and retract, just think about the effect we could have if we took the next few weeks to form new habits like sharing positivity, paying compliments, and speaking encouraging words. We could pay it forward, emotionally speaking.
There’s little we can do to physically support one another during this challenging and turbulent time, but with small acts of acknowledgment and kindness toward our neighbors, let’s be there for one another!