“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

The first line of LP Hartley’s famous novel currently resonates loudly. Given the global pandemic and the restrictions we all continue to face, even the recent past can seem like a lifetime away.

Just a few weeks ago, we hadn’t even heard the phrase ‘social distancing,’ but now it’s part of everyday conversation. But that conversation is changing. Even in those short weeks, a time when we’ve all still been washing our hands relentlessly and following numerous guidelines, people have started to talk more about ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing.’

There’s a distinct difference, and it’s why we should use the former rather than the latter. Though ‘social distancing’ is still widely used, it’s actually sending a negative message and could be seen to be exacerbating the situation we are all in, rather than helping people to deal with it.

In the current context, either phrase simply means staying two meters away from each other to help slow the spread of Covid-19. While ‘physical distancing’ does what it says on the tin, ‘social distancing’ implies that you need to be socially separate from your family, friends and work colleagues.

Fortunately, given the technology at our disposal, most of us are able to connect through video calls at work or at home. As human beings, connection is vital in our everyday lives, so even when we are isolated it’s important for our mental health and emotional wellbeing that we stay in touch.

And the language we use during the current crisis is important too. ‘Physical distancing’ is a phrase which maintains that connection without the downbeat connotation that goes with ‘social distancing.’ There are lots of things many of us are doing at work and home, none of which involves us being separated socially.

Games, quizzes, exercise, hints and tips, exchanging news and views are all part of the mix and are ways we can all stay connected and well. While it’s crucial that we all maintain our physical distance, it doesn’t mean we have to disconnect from loved ones and colleagues socially.

So, rather than use ‘social distancing’ as the default term, let’s start to say ‘physical distancing.’

The two are different. We need to remain physically distant, but we want to be as close as we’ve ever been socially both at work and at home.

Posted: 05/05/2020

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