Will You Still Say Hello?
by Stu Johnson
Posted: March 29, 2020
Connecting in a time of social distancing…
In the depth of the COVID-19 global crisis, with the isolation of social distancing and lock-downs, the human spirit rises.
I started to interject some thoughts on the way that technology—specifically the internet and social media platforms—have impacted our ability to stay connected and serve as conduits for that human spirit. That, however, I will reserve for a separate blog.
Here's a simple example my wife and I have experienced since the term "social distancing" has entered the global vocabulary in recent months..
We like to take walks as often as possible. During the cold months here in the Chicago area, we use the indoor track at a local park district building. But we get tired of walking in circles and can't wait to get outside.
When the coronavirus pandemic started to hit the U.S., many places began to close, limit hours or restrict access. That included the indoor track, but not the parks.
Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker declared a stay-at-home order for the whole state. It began March 21and continues through at least April 7. (Today's extension of CDC "social distancing" guidelines through the end of April for the whole country will likely see that order extended). We are permitted to leave home to get groceries, gas and other "essentials."
We are also permitted—even encouraged to some extent—to go outside to get fresh air and exercise, as long as we observe social distancing.
Fortunately, the weather is starting to warm, so we have been able to go a local park to walk the two-mile path that follows its boundary.
The first time we went it looked like Spring Break. There were quite a few people, many walking dogs, some jogging, most walking alone or in small groups of two or three. The tennis and basketball courts were empty, as were the baseball and soccer fields. Children were enjoying the playground, but that too was ended with the stay-at-home order.
The spread of people on the path was not just coincidental social distancing. Many showed intent, not bunching up, and moving to the edge of the wide path when passing each other, In the past few days more are keeping their distance from each other when walking in groups of two or three.
While we were walking one day, a city police car drove through the parking lot, perhaps looking for obvious violations of the social distancing guidelines. Even though there were quite a few people, they were all on the path and keeping their distance. There were no children in the playground.
Not all communities have reacted as ours has—at least in this large community park. In the news the other day was a story about another community where park personnel were disappointed in the amount of inappropriate activity they found. In one case a group of seniors who had gathered in the tennis courts to play pickle ball was told to disperse.
A photo showed a couple of two-by-fours sandwiched on a basketball hoop to block its use. Another photo showed a playground enclosed in warning tape to discourage entry. (In our park, four small signs around the perimeter served the same purpose and seemed to be working).
Meanwhile, as things continue to get worse in some cities, there have been reports of more direct action, including fines and jail time for anyone endangering others by violating social distancing and other guidelines.
Back to the good news. Here's the spark of our shared humanity that we're seeing. When passing people going the opposite direction, almost without fail, we make eye contact and exchange a brief greeting.
What's the big deal, you say? Well, even in a suburban area considered to be friendly, in "normal" times making this simple connection is more the exception than the rule, with dog walkers being the most likely to make "the exchange." Now, dogs and their owners are getting even more exercise!
Will this new sense of shared humanity (through this example and many others) stay in place once the pandemic crisis passes?
Sadly we've been through other times that brought us together for a time—9/11, mass shootings, natural disasters—but then we drift back to "normal," where we may be physically close but remain disconnected, even personally isolated.
Let's hope that many of us will continue "the exchange," connecting as we did in the days of COVID-19.
It's simple, really. Make eye contact. Exchange a word of greeting, even if little more than "hello" or "good morning."
Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.• Author bio (website*) • E-mail the author (moc.setaicossajs@uts*) • Author's website (personal or primary**)
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