I know we are all working to protect our families and taking all the necessary precautions for this virus, but I just can’t stop thinking past the virus, the consequences after, beyond the deaths, the consequences of a generation raised to fear human touch.
One of my favorite reads is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. In this book he explains what distinguishes humankind from other species and allowed us to be the most successful species on earth. It goes beyond opposable thumbs, sophisticated language (including a writing system), but the winning skill is our social nature. We are successful because of each other. Hunters and gathers. The pyramids were built not by one man, but our tribes. Humans are innately social. It is how we experience joy and our social nature is linked to our survival. Look at how our young require another human to survive. They can’t even walk for a year. Think how ridiculous that is compared to other mammals that are born and just trot away. An elephant must look at a newborn human and say, “wow that must be an inferior animal as my baby can do loads more than that thing.”
So what happens to humanity when our greatest asset is taken away?
What happens when we fear each other?
What happens to children’s ability to develop when they are scared to touch a friend?
How do people connect?
I just read about a company that has banned handshaking and hugs. Culture is even changing. The way we express ourselves is changing. The repercussions of this virus will last beyond physical health. We will have a generation with a new enemy to fear and it’s faceless. Unlike previous big events that I’ve sat next to students for, this one is different. For example, during 911 we were able to appeal to children’s natural inclination to categorize life into “good” and “bad.” But where do we point here? There is no terrorist to point to. Nothing specific to avoid, no “see something, say something” slogan we can rally behind. This fear is everyday life itself. Its invisible and as I have learned, understanding the unseeable is hard even for our most brilliant minds.
And I know we are focusing on the now (getting educated and prepared), but I can’t help fast-forwarding to tomorrow. The tomorrow when you slap your child’s hand for reaching to touch a toy in a store or god-forbid the elevator button. The tomorrow when you pull your child immediately from a playmate at the sandbox when they sneeze. What message is that for each child? How will they process this? How do you love thy neighbor?
Human connection is the exact thing that makes us human. And now I can understand why hunkering has been so hard. It’s not natural for us. We are tribal people who crave touch and make meaning through each other.
It makes my heartbreak.
So as you freak, please keep the little ones in mind. Be clear with them about the virus and the necessary precautions, but be sure to touching them, hugging them, and reminding them that they are safe with you always. I wish I better advice. I wish I could drag Mr. Rogers out of his grave. He would know what to do.