Four Ways to Pop the Zorb of Social Isolation

Four Ways to Pop the Zorb of Social Isolation


If you don’t scroll the walls of social media, watch the evening news, interact with anyone, (and basically, live in a giant zorb), then for you, the coronavirus isn’t evoking feelings of fear, tension, and confusion.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with zorbing it is the recreation or sport of rolling downhill inside an orb, generally made of transparent plastic. We’ve never tried it, but it does look like fun! And right there is the problem — none of us lives in a zorb. We’ve scrolled the walls of social media, we’ve watched the evening news, and we’ve talked with our family, friends, and neighbors. We drank the kool-aid and it has been a shock to our systems. The coronavirus has affected us deeply.

The list of concerns continues to grow, almost by the minute. We check our devices and yet another alarm has sounded. Schools began closing last week. Over this past weekend, churches began moving their worship services from indoor, face-to-face gatherings to virtual ones. Yesterday, the governor of Pennsylvania, where we live, closed all restaurants and bars, in turn cancelling all beloved St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Today, the US/Canada border has closed. Tomorrow, we assume it will be another “something,” possibly forcing us to retreat even further. Less gathering leads to less community which leads to more social isolation, more disconnection, more loneliness.

Each of us is hardwired for connection, for relationships, for community. The coronavirus hysteria is causing us to create zorbs around our families, around ourselves. It reminds us of the comedy movie The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, adopted and raised by a corporation inside a simulated television show revolving around his life. Truman’s life is like being in a zorb, with everyone watching but keeping their distance. Those of us who are more socially connected are trying to find ways to connect with others, to break out of the zorb. But what about those who struggle to connect, to cultivate meaningful relationships, those who are lonely, disenfranchised, hurting, grieving, vulnerable? What about those who live in poverty, who are older, who have disabilities, who live in rural communities, just to name a few? How do they break out of their zorb?

In his article “With the Coronavirus, Hell is no Other People” published March 11th in The New Yorker, author and educator Bill McKibben writes,

“The strangest thing about the coronavirus is that we can’t help one another through it.”

He is right. Because of the obvious physical health needs and preventative measures connected with the coronavirus, the direct ways in which we normally connect with and support others are not good options now.

McKibben writes, “Loneliness turns out to be a huge factor in diminishing human lives. Everything we measure, from immune response to the onset of dementia to coronary-artery disease is worsened, often dramatically, in people with fewer friends.”

We are not physical healthcare experts. But our mission demands us to be emotional healthcare experts. We respect medical professionals and the work they do. It’s vital to follow their advice — and we know they indeed have their work cut out for them — in the days and weeks ahead as this physical health pandemic grows.

However, it’s also vital and just as valuable to follow our advice. We too — all of us — have our work cut out for us as we break down this social and emotional isolation pandemic.

In this time of social isolation, we must also remember those who are disconnected and lonely. Those who are confined to home, living alone or with disabilities, who are older, who have pre-existing conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the virus. Those who are often overlooked. With those special ‘someones’ in mind, including ourselves, we’d like to offer four ways to help us overcome social isolation:

1. Get creative

Years ago when I (Tom) was in grad school, my fiance (and now wife) lived several states away. We didn’t see each other face-to-face for months (and this was before the age of FaceTime, What’s App, etc.). To keep our relationship healthy, strong, and working, we needed to get creative. We started off by intentionally taking daily walks together. We’d stay on the phone for an hour or so — in between classes for me, and shifts at the hospital for her — and we’d have lengthy conversations about deeper matters of the heart while we were walking. As two introverts who find phone-talking to be less than ideal, was there silence? Yes, absolutely! But, there was still connection, and connection leads to unity. I especially remember one Friday night in the middle of the semester. The latest Harry Potter movie had just appeared on DVD (again, before the digital age of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) and we decided to watch the movie simultaneously (literally pressing play on the DVD player at the same time), staying on the phone throughout the movie. We even made popcorn separately and ate it as we watched! We laughed at the same scenes, shed a tear or two when Harry nearly offered up his life on behalf of his friends, and then we had a follow-up conversation as the film concluded.

Michael and I have made a commitment with another one of our team members, who now lives out of state, to do the same. We share lunch meals together, we’ve gone on walks in unison, we’ve sent encouraging texts. We’ve fostered the relationship.

We heard about another group of friends who meet periodically to share meals together face-to-face, but will instead be meeting virtually this coming Saturday evening. With social distancing becoming a whole new normal, the group has decided to enjoy a meal together from the confines of their own homes using social platforms.

It all starts with creativity. So get creative!

2. Use technology wisely; don’t settle

There is truly nothing like face-to-face conversation. No matter how far we go technologically, nothing satisfies like authentic, face-to-face interaction. So, don’t settle. Just today, in the middle of our work day, a friend of ours stopped into the office to talk about a family member who is dying of cancer. We maintained appropriate boundaries 🙂 but we also talked face-to-face thanks to her initiative. It enabled us to read each other’s body language, non-verbals, and hand gestures. We reminded one another that we are in this together. That message was heard and felt even more fully because we did it face-to-face. Again, with social distancing creating “zorbs” around ourselves, this becomes a bit more tricky. But you can do it! Here in Central Pennsylvania, spring is on its way, so take advantage of the warmer temperatures. Go on a walk or take a hike. Foster community, but simply do it in smaller, less structured ways.

3. Listen to podcasts

Digital platforms, especially podcasts, are on the rise and we have the chance to take advantage of them with this extra space we’ve been handed. If you need suggestions, we can offer our favorites, but we’d also like to do a little self-promoting here: Tune in to the Someone To Tell It To Podcast as we interview experts in the field of listening and we give people a platform to tell their stories.

4. Listen to yourself

We know it’s difficult to stop classes in the middle of the semester. But if it brings you solace, remember that Isaac Newton discovered the theory of optics when he was sent home because of the Black Plague. Each of us has something special inside of us to offer to the world and it starts by looking within. Spend these extra moments in solitude reflecting on what you, uniquely, can offer the world and what steps you need to take to make it happen! Once you have those ideas in place, share them with others and invite them into the process so that you feel less alone in making those dreams and visions a reality. Finally, ask others about their dreams and visions and how individually and collectively you can make the world a better place.

Doing this will remind them that they are not forgotten or alone, that they are cared for. It can make a difference — a huge one. It can bring hope. It can offer reassurance. It can save a life.

This is one very important way we can help one another through it.

And pop the zorb!

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