Social Distancing

Things are different now. By now we have all observed how things have changed; the way we greet each other, the way we interact in so many ways: and, we know that to classify them as good or bad is futile. We stop the factories, driving, flying, and the air clears. By not going out, neighbors are talking to each other, sometimes for the first time.

There will be other good things that come from this in the long term. Some cities are already eliminating and restricting cars. People are looking at our environmental impact. People are noticing the wildlife and the other sentient beings that we share the planet with. Companies are looking at utilizing remote working more, in order to decrease the costs of maintaining office space.

Here in D.C. I lived through the AIDS pandemic in the 80’s and 90’s. Along with watching all but a handful of friends die, I saw the LGBT community unite, which paved the way for the huge advances in rights we have made. Hospice care is common now; but was almost unknown at the time. Living Benefits, medical power of attorney, these are all familiar now, and the familiarity with and expansion of these benefits is a result of crisis.

Still, things are different now. One of the biggest and hardest aspects of this, at least for some people, is social distancing and its impacts. I have an older neighbor who loves to talk. He goes out to eat and to bars, so this has been extremely challenging for him. Others are thriving.

I was talking with a friend who mentioned that they were sad about having missed an event, but that it was rescheduled as a virtual one and turned out to be a huge success. They thought it was even more fun because it was virtual. Another friend told me they had a family event. They were so relieved that there were travel restrictions because the family situation was so toxic. They also attended something virtually and actually managed to enjoy it.

This got me thinking about the fact that we are doing social distancing now for physical health. But, what about our mental and emotional health? Because of covid most of us have experienced, as a necessity, attending events virtually. There are benefits to this as far as eliminating the environmental impact of traveling, cost, and, depending on the event and the people, our mental and emotional health.

I suspect this is going to be the new normal, attending events virtually. Things we may not have been able to attend physically are now something we can participate in, albeit virtually. Additionally, because this virus has highlighted our need to care for our physical health, I think more people are going to consider their mental and emotional health as well, when considering whether to attend something physically or virtually, particularly events where there is a high likelihood of emotionally toxic interactions. I know I plan to.

Two of the most common events that I see people attending virtually are weddings and funerals, simply because emotions are already heightened. Both are meant to be celebrations: one celebrating the union of people, and the other a celebration of an individual’s time in a body on this planet, in this dimension.

Of course, these situations, with heightened emotions are fertile ground for toxic people. We’ve all been to those events where someone inevitably creates drama. I was a watching the D.C. Pride Parade last year, when someone creating drama claimed to have a gun and threatened to shoot someone. This sent the crowd running. The metal barricades that kept people out of the street started crashing onto the pavement. Some misinterpreted this as gunshots, and as I looked, I saw a tsunami of people heading directly for me. Of course, I ran too and sought shelter. It turned out that no shots were fired, but the toxic people were able to infect others by creating this drama.

There are multiple reasons why people create these toxic situations. Some are crying out for help, some are addicted to the chemicals their bodies release when creating these situations. There is a movie that captures this aspect perfectly: “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” Check out the wedding scene.

These individuals will still create drama, and probably be the most vocal about how attending an event virtually instead of in person is somehow wrong, selfish, lazy, etc., pick your word. Of course they will: they are like anyone struggling with addiction. They want you there to be able to create the drama. And just like anyone with addiction or who is abusive, you cannot enable them. You don’t give drug addicts money to continue using, and when an addict is living with you and refuses to get treatment, at some point you have to evict them. It’s the same with these toxic people. The only difference is that you and your reactions are the drug.

These people who create drama remind me of zombie ants. If you are not familiar with this phenomenon it is really interesting. There is a fungus that infects ants. It essentially controls them and turns them into zombies. Eventually the fungus takes over the brain of the ant, and forces them to climb to a high place above the colony of healthy individuals, where their body explodes and the spores of the fungus spread to and infect the healthy colony below.

In the same way that the zombie ant infects healthy individuals, so too does the toxic person. If you attend an event and have a confrontation with one of these toxic individuals, you have been infected. That encounter is going to alter the way you react to your friends, family, coworkers, the person in line ahead of you, and so on. And, your reaction to them, if it is negative, is going to potentially cause them to do the same. It’s the same way a virus spreads.

In the same way that we wear masks and face coverings now to protect others from covid, I would suggest that everyone look at the events they are attending, assess the situation, and consider the alternatives to attending physically if it is likely that the event is going to result in toxic interactions; if not for yourself, for the others you may impact if you are infected.

Good luck and stay safe and healthy.

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