Social Distancing and Ostracization

Recently I was asked: “When does social distancing become ostracizing?”

“Become ostracizing” encompasses two things
(1) the ostracizing action taken by one group that excludes another
(2) the feeling of ostracization by the individual(s)/group being excluded

“Social distancing” encompasses keeping one’s physical distance from all who are not in one’s own household. At first, it feels awkward because although our different familial and cultural backgrounds and intuitive sense defines the details and distance that we naturally keep (or don’t keep) from others, “social distancing” is a “new” concept that is laid on top of all of the ones that we have developed, that is expected to supercede our old ways of interacting. It is, generally, more distanced than any of us were prior to its introduction. Social distancing is relatively benign with both/all parties agree to it, agree to the reasons why, etc. When social needs fail to be met, when these social agreements breakdown…that is when social distancing starts devolving into ostracization.

Social distancing becomes ostracization for the person shunned when that individual’s needs for human interaction, physical closeness, etc., are hampered by social distancing. The person shunned feels a loss that can’t be filled. I am reminded of the story Reiner Fuellmich told in a recent video I watched of the man who approached the scared, masked elderly woman in a bank, hugged her, she cried, and admitted no one had hugged her for a year. Or, myself, who always enjoyed the opportunity after church service to mingle and chat with people — sometimes those conversation delved into “deep topics” — but without meeting in person, that interaction never happened, and it evolved into an ache of longing.

Social distancing becomes the act of ostracization when overtures are made to end the distance, and one party refuses. With my choir group, we have essentially all been avoiding meeting since March 2020 — but when I “dropped the bomb” and suggested that we meet because we know so much more about the virus, and there is no need to continue to act out of fear…it was shot down, and my bid to return to “normal” was rejected…that feels the same as being ostracized.

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