Staying six feet away from everyone is smart. Distancing yourself socially is not.
Words have power. Words influence our perception of the world and people around us, and leave an emotional impact in their work.
I recently read an article in Psychology Today called “Scientist Find That a Single Word Can Alter Perceptions,” which discusses a study released in 2013 that confirms that language has the power to “reshape our knowledge and expectations of the world.” The author discuses two simple words - Yes and No. It appears that a simple word - yes, regardless of context, will trigger an expectation of optimism. Conversely, the word no will instantly make us feel negative right away.
As Mary Kay said, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” What we read or hear, what we repeat to ourselves, creates our reality. Being exposed to and internalizing certain words and phrases can subtly change the course of our lives without us even realizing what is actually happening.
There are thousands of market research studies that dig deep into our psyche pulling out which words influence us the most. In the marketing world, these words are called the words that convert. For example, we’ve all gone online shopping or signed up for email lists, but very few of us notice whether the button says Join Us or Sign Up. Purchase Now or Buy Now. A/B split testing has proven over and over that one word can change everything. Just going from Purchase Now to Buy Now can materially increase your sales. Without us realizing the science being worked on us, we are guided by words carefully chosen, based on tried and tested formulas.
Here's another example: there is a whole science to choosing headlines to sell papers and magazines. For example, in his TED Talk, Alain de Botton discusses asking a tabloid papers to come up with current day headlines for classic works of art. The story of Othello would be sold as “Love-Crazed Immigrant Kills Senator’s Daughter.” Or Madam Bovary would be headlined as “Shopaholic Adulteress Swallows Arsenic After Credit Fraud” or Oedipus the King would be headlined as “Sex With Mom Was Blinding.” Think about that — would you read that story? Would you click that link?
Even I have personal experience with sensational headlines. I remember one day someone forwarding a story to me. I read the title and thought, “Wow, I can’t wait to read this and see what happened.”
“Stranger Attacks Her. 20 Years Later, She Meets A Great Dane And Makes A Stunning Realization.”
I was all ready to read who attacked this poor girl and what kind of realization did she have after thinking about something for twenty years - only to realize the story was about me, which is why this person forwarded it to me in the first place.
All this is to say — words have colossal power over us, and they are strategically used to make us feel and think a certain way. And for this reason, I have a big problem with the phrase “Social Distancing.”
When you think about it, "social distancing" as a phrase doesn’t even make sense. We are human beings, and we need to be social. In fact, we need it so much that one of the toughest punishments that can be given to you is solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement is defined as:
“...a form of psychological torture with measurable long-term physiological effects when the period of confinement is longer than a few weeks or is continued indefinitely.”
Solitary confinement will create depression, paranoia, anxiety, cognitive disorders, and even suicide. In fact, in 2011, a United Nations report questions if isolation should be used under any circumstances.
Today, during this pandemic, we are constantly being confronted with the term “social distancing.” While the intent is to encourage people to maintain physical distance from each other so as not to spread COVID-19, the emotional impact of the chosen phrasing is much different. "Social distancing" implies both social and emotional distancing, when in fact we have to do the exact opposite in order to get through this moment. While we need to stay physically distance, right now is the time to get more socially engaged and active. We just have to get creative on how to do this while being physically separated.
Thankfully, we live in a world where a lack of physical proximity doesn't inhibit socialization. We can get out on our front lawns or balconies and chat with our neighbors. Most of us have internet — use it! This is the time to videochat and keep close with your family and friends.
My parents are very social — they are more social than I am or probably ever will be. They have a group of 4-5 couples that they constantly spend time with. Most of these couples are retired and their kids are grown, so they really don’t have much to do other than to socialize. They get together multiple times per week organizing typical Bosnian gatherings filled with food, music, dancing, love, and friendship.
When social distancing started, I was really worried about my parents and their friends. But it turns out, they aren’t missing a beat! All of them get together on multiple group chats. They prepare food and drinks, and share stories, continuing to enjoy their life as they did before, just with a slight adjustment. They even have their usual “Happy Hour,” which normally would be spent in a restaurant or a bar — but now it’s on their living room couch.
My parents and all of their friends are from ex-Yugoslavia. They have all lived through war in some form — and if you can take a lesson from them it should be that no matter what is happening, keep living your life making the best of it. Don’t dwell on what you don’t have and what you can’t do, but focus on what you do have and enjoy it, while taking reasonable steps to keep yourself safe.
Nurturing your relationships and friendships will create empathy, support, understanding, and unity. Instead of feeling isolated and like you are going through this alone and trapped, you will feel that you are going through it with amazing group of friends and family around you.
Creating this feeling of closeness is imperative for getting through this pandemic and post pandemic time with minimal consequences. If we turn into isolated social hermit crabs, we will increase our worry, fear, anxiety, and depression. This will make it far more difficult to bounce back and recover from these trying times.
The bottom line is: we are social creatures and we shouldn’t and can’t be socially isolated. So please stop social distancing, and embrace physical distancing instead.
During this pandemic it is imperative that we stay physically isolated. But I believe we need to use appropriate terms to describe the actions we should be taking, because those simple words can have a huge impact on our mental and emotional well-being.
Stop saying social distancing and call it what is should be called - physical distancing - while leaning into your new, vibrant, physically-distanced social life.
About the Author: Maja Kazazic is an internationally recognized motivational speaker and author originally from Mostar in former Yugoslavia. During the Bosnian genocide, she and five friends were caught in an RPG explosion. Maja was severely wounded, and all of her friends were killed on impact. Maja was later evacuated to the United States for extensive medical treatment. She re-learned to walk, attended college, and, in 2006, founded a successful web development company. Today she lives in Florida with her family, including her service dog, Rosie, and is an active kayaker, tennis player, and golfer. Maja has been featured in Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping Magazine, Fox News, BBC News, Discovery Network, the Philadelphia Inquirer and more and has delivered her timely messages to clients from organizations big and small all over the world.
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