So much for 'social distancing'

Word choice, a bit more on schools, and 7 other things worth your time, an unusual number of which have something to do with sharks or unicorns.

When we close the books on 2020, one sad phrase will probably rise to the top of our collective memory: “social distancing.”

But wait, what if we’ve been doing “social distancing” wrong this whole time?

Meet Dr. Barbara Lee Fredrickson. She’s the head of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at UNC.

So, she studies happiness. (Even if you knew nothing else, that seems like a pretty cool place to work.)

Earlier this summer, Fredrickson and her colleagues surveyed 600 Americans about their daily activities, and correlated how they spent their time with the degree to which they reported experiencing positive or negative emotions.

The results are interesting enough, but the thing I really took away was an “oh by the way” framing suggestion.

First, the study results. Some of this, I grant you, won’t be a shock. The UNC team found that people who spent time “passively scrolling social media” or “interacting with people purely through chat or text” were more likely to report feeling negative emotions.

“Interacting with others doesn't seem to help much when you can't actually see or hear the people you are communicating with,” Frederickson and Prinzing wrote.

Meanwhile, the following activities were more likely to be associated with positive emotions:

  • Exercise.

  • Self-care (such as participating in hobbies or relaxing).

  • Engaging in spiritual activities (prayer or meditation).

  • Interacting with other people, especially via video or face-to-face interactions.

  • Going out of their way to help other people.

“Most people know that these things are important, of course. But they are especially so these days,” Frederickson wrote.

So, how do we encourage people to engage in the second group of activities at the expense of the first? 

One simple way might be to stop calling the overall thing we’ve been encouraging to stop the spread of coronavirus—stop calling it“social distancing,” and instead advocate for “physical distancing and social solidarity.”

I know sometimes we can get fixated on word choices. And to reuse a phrase from the other day, there’s always the chance this is a $20 phrase to describe a $1 problem.

But it turns out that the federal CDC has been using the phrases “social distancing” and “physical distancing” as if they were synonymous. That trickles down and shads meaning. And yet, the two phrases are not synonymous.

So, why this is front and center for me right now, besides the personal impact?

Two words: virtual school.

Not long ago I was bemoaning the fact that our town wasn’t even sharing a best-case scenario for when they hoped some kind of hybrid in-person and virtual combination of instruction might be possible. Now, they’re saying maybe in November.

Look, there’s no good solution. I’m not going to argue against that timeline.

But as as we ease into this new abnormal, I’d love to see an emphasis on “physical distancing” as opposed to “social distancing”—and all the second- and third-order effects that would entail.

It’s rough enough that we grown-ups have to endure. Maybe we can change the wording and improve the result a bit for our kids.

7 other things worth your time

  • Wait, case in point: A viral photo of a kindergartner in tears as he tries to navigate virtual learning during the pandemic “is resonating with parents as their children face similar challenges.” (Good Morning America)

  • They used to say Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels. Chadwick Boseman became one of the most influential Black actors in the course of a few years, and he did a lot of it while, unbeknownst to most, battling colon cancer—which took his life this weekend. (The Atlantic)

  • We’re going to see a lot of innovation in face masks, like this battery-powered, assisted breathing mask that’s been described as “an assistive pedaling e-bike, but for your face.” (Fast Company)

  • Nearly 40 children who had been missing were found in Georgia as part of "Operation Not Forgotten," run by the U.S. Marshals Service. “Many of these children were at risk for chid sex trafficking, abuse and exploitation, the law enforcement agency said.” (Fox News)

  • The Pentagon is pushing for an award of the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who died nearly 15 years ago in Iraq while trying to rescue his fellow soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The fact that Cashe hasn’t been honored yet has been controversial, as he would be the first Black soldier to receive the nation’s highest military valor award since Vietnam. (Army Times)

  • Violence at two protests over the weekend led to three shooting deaths, with a 17-year-old self-identified militia member facing murder charges in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Police in Portland said they are “not currently releasing suspect information” about the shooting death of another person. (NBC News, Reuters)

  • Finally, sharks and unicorns, since the Coast Guard video and story from the other day got so much reaction. Lifeguards in California and on Long Island have found themselves catching sharks with their bare hands, while a little girl in Greece floated off to sea in the exact same rainbow unicorn floatie the Coast Guard was using, before she was rescued by a ferryboat. (KCRA, CBS News, NY Times)

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