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  • Steven Robinson
    Steven Robinson

    How Social Distancing Lowered My Empathy For Others

    It felt like the whole world slowed down when the pandemic forced us into isolation. Although staying at home may have kept us safe and healthy, it had a far-reaching effect on our compassion for others. We all withdrew regardless of whether we chose or were mandated to do so. With no connecting footsteps or curious whispers between us, warmth slowly slipped away and what was left in its place was a sense of indifference.

    At first, I barely noticed that the disconnection was slowly dulling my empathy. I missed seeing people in restaurants and grocery stores, but I could still check in with friends and family over Zoom calls and FaceTime. It seemed like nothing more than an extended vacation; something that could be overcome by a strong internet connection and well-timed text messages.

    But as the days and weeks of isolation passed, a heaviness began to settle in me. Long conversations and detailed emails began to fill the gaps, but I still missed the rush of being in something bigger than myself. The lack of connection and representation chipped away at my emotions until eventually, I was unable to recognize what it felt like to share a smile or give a kind word to someone I didn't know.

    My ability to empathize for strangers was lost. My veneer of surrender became a concrete wall that separated me from the makeshift relationships I was able to create through physical distance.

    The irony is we used technology to connect with people in the hopes of feeling closer to them when in reality the distance only made us feel further apart.

    I became obsessed with finding ways to break the barrier that had isolated me from everyone I used to care about. I started engaging in online forums, attending virtual events, and above all, trying to connect with anyone I could. It helped me reconcile the loneliness loneliness I’d been feeling, but it felt like there was a part of myself that was missing - my compassion for strangers.

    Eventually, I hit a wall in my attempts to get out of my social hibernation. I realized the only way to build relationships was to take the plunge and make real-life contact again. So I took a few small steps in rekindling my relationships with family and friends. I had forgotten how powerful a simple hug could be and how reassuring a friendly face could be.

    Being with people face-to-face reminded me of the importance of caring for others, and again, I found my compassion slipping back into my life.

    The pandemic has undoubtedly pushed us apart, but we need to remember it’s our shared humanity that binds us all together. No matter how far away we are from each other, we need to find the courage to bridge the gap, reach out, and reclaim the connections we’ve lost.

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