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Social Togetherness Is not Lost
By Barrington H. Brennen, April 15, 2020

These are unprecedented times in the history of humankind.   The Corona Virus COVID19 is bringing the entire world to its knees in disbelief and fear.  On the other hand, it is also exposing tremendous talents and creativity.   There are 210 countries in the world, and all are battling COVID19.  For the past few days, I have been studying the response of all countries and noted that all governments having instituted some form of curfew, emergency orders or lock-down to stem the spread of this unpredictable, deadly virus.

I have also looked at many of the leading Christian denominations in the world and noted that most have temporally closed their church doors to in-house worship and have migrated to online worship periods.   In many cases, the attendance of these virtual or online services has equaled or surpassed the attendance of in-house services.  

How could a virus spread so fast around the world within just a few weeks?  My research reveals that on January 12, 2020 there was only one country with COVID19.  Now, three months later, every country is impacted.   Epidemiologist and other experts in disease prevention indicate that the spread has been due to close social interaction of human beings.    Yes, it was the mingling of people in communities, schools, churches, public spaces that helped spread the virus so rapidly around the world.  Hence, the term “Community Spread” is being used by experts.  

Marian Webster Dictionary defines community spread as  “The spread of a contagious disease within a community. . . to individuals in a particular geographic location who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently traveled to an area where the disease has any documented cases.”  This is occurring in The Bahamas today.   Hence, here and around the world, medical experts are saying that the fastest way to end the spread of the virus is to cease mingling with people in public and to wear a mask if you must go out.   The term being used is “social distancing.” 

Coronavirus: What is Social Distancing? What are Social Distancing ...

Preferably, I think the better term is “physical distancing.”  Why?   Because during this time, although we cannot see each other, we need to keep people emotionally or socially close for support, encouragement, and strength.   I remember as a teenager having more than fifty-four pen pals.  These are equivalent to “Friends” on the modern social media platforms.  We got acquainted via the simple snail mail by writing letters and sending photos to each other.   I became socially or emotionally close to many of them although we were literally hundreds or thousands of miles apart.    Social togetherness is the results of sharing things in common, unique interests and goals. 

Today, although we cannot, for our own health, be physically close (within each other private space), we can still be socially close with the use of the phone and highspeed internet on social media.   We can actually hear and see each other for the cost of a few cents or at no cost at all.   Conceptually, love can also “spread” through our communities, churches, towns, the same way.    Physical isolation does not mean social isolation, emotional or spiritual apathy. 

When the term “social distancing” started to circulate the globe as a means to prevent the spread of COVID19, my mind went back to the 1970s when I was as a student at Northern Caribbean University, Jamaica.  Male and female students were strongly advised not to be closer than three feet apart, even if you were dating.  It seems as though the leaders acquainted physical  proximity with intimacy.   

Interestingly, in 1966, anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced the term proxemics to describe set measurable distances between people as they interact.  He noted that there are four distances or spaces when we interact to people.  There is the “intimate distance” for embracing, touching or whispering (less than 6 inches to 18 inches). There is the “personal distance” for interactions among good friends (1.5 to 4 feet).  Then third, there is the “social distance” for interactions among acquaintances. (4 to 12 feet).  The final distance is “public distance” used for public speaking (12 to 25 feet or more).  Why would you allow someone in your “intimate space” when that person should not proceed beyond your “social space?”   It made sense then.  More than ever, physically distancing is needed.  In the early days, physical distancing came out of a foolish belief that getting too close will automatically stir up illicit behavior.  Some parents even made their daughters believe that if boys touch them, they will get pregnant.   This kind of teaching about physical distancing emotionally crippled many budding adults.  Today however, due to COVID19, the requirement to keep at least six feet apart, Edward T. Hall calls “social distance,” will not cripple us, it will literally save our lives.

Yet, I must remind you that physical distance does not mean social distance. The Internet has brought on a far new dimension to intimacy. With the use of modern technology, we can, without fear, allow someone in our “social space.”  Although miles apart we can still be spiritually and emotional intimate.     We can care for our family, the elderly, sick and the lonely.   Let’s keep socially close.


Barrington Brennen is a counseling psychologist and marriage and family therapist.  Send your questions to question@soencouragment.org or call 242-327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org




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