Human beings need one another. Our hearts ache to connect with each other and when we can’t we do everything humanly possible to feel as if we’re connected, even if it’s for a brief moment. People need people and we’re seeing how badly we need one another more and more as we’re being asked to keep away from other people to avoid spreading this dreaded virus. While self quarantine is an important discipline, we still ache to engage our fellow human beings and it seems when we can’t do that not only do our bodies feel as if they’re under siege but our souls do as well.
This desire to connect with one another at this difficult time is being beautifully expressed in Italy. News stories around the world show videos of Italians singing to each other over their balconies as they wait out this terrible experience of self quarantine. You can watch one of these videos here. While the disease caused by this virus is bad enough, the emotional strain caused by isolation is just one more factor eating away at our human spirit. The Italians have found a way to overcome this tragedy and connect to each other through one of the most uniquely human activities one can perform. They are singing songs of hope to one another.
As I watched these videos I started to think how important it is to find ways to connect with one another during this crisis. Psychologists have done numerous studies that demonstrate the importance of human connection. Children raised in orphanages who seldom receive human touch struggle developmentally and sometimes succumb to death. Studies exploring social isolation find that the same pain centers associated with physical pain in the brain are active when an individual feels isolated and socially excluded. We need one another and when we can’t connect to each other we suffer physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. So the question we need to answer is how can we remain connected with other people when we’re being asked to socially disengage?
I think we need to be mindful that while many of us will be with other people because we’re quarantined with family members living in the same house there are those who live alone that won’t have that same opportunity. They may be single adults, older individuals, or people with illnesses. People who are self quarantined and living alone will feel isolated in a more profound way than those of us isolated as whole families. However, they don’t need to feel alone if we just do some simple things to stay connected to them. What can we do?
First, make phone calls to people you know who are living alone. Check in on them, ask how they’re doing, and see if there is a way you can get them anything they need. Most likely just hearing your voice will be enough to lift their spirits so they can press on another day. Phone calls are simple gestures of care that too often get pushed aside by our texting habit. During a time when people feel alone, the sound of your voice might be a better choice than the “ding” of a text.
Secondly, use Skype or some other video conferencing application to connect with those left alone. We need to see another human face, its a very important part of how we feel connected to people. Often just seeing another human being’s face gives us a sense of comfort and connectedness. Try and make that a reality through Facetime or Google Hangouts. We have the technology to connect with one another so lets try and make it happen for those who feel left alone or isolated without any option to be with people. In fact, there are numerous free video conferencing websites that a number of you can use to get people together, use them to create a virtual social gathering.
Lastly, connect with one another over social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. all provide some sense of connection to others. I have a friend who lives about 8 hours from me. Unfortunately he isn’t able to get out much because of his health issues. However, he spends a significant amount of time on Facebook when he can’t be with other people and often he and I engage in chats as well as share pics and memes with one another to the point where it feels like we are in the same room. In fact, after a number of shares and chats we often just call one another to talk about what we’re doing on social media. Even the most minimal engagement through technology can help us feel connected to others.
Nothing can make social isolation perfect and nothing replaces face to face human interaction. Most days we lament the fact we don’t connect in person with other people and remain disconnected through social media. However, maybe social media and technology can be the one thing that helps us keep those living alone feel connected to other people. Maybe this situation will help us reignite the desire to get off the screens we hold in our hands and actually visit with one another when this virus is contained. Ultimately, if none of this works, maybe we can learn from our friends in Italy and let that primal human expression that bubbles up within us emerge from our vocal chords. Maybe, just maybe, we need to sing. When all else fails, sing to one another and let one lonely soul cry out to another through the gift of music.