My apologies for skipping a week but I was without an internet connection for close on a week. The joys of country living, I presume, sent as my first lesson in slowing down from city ways!
I moved into the small village of McGregor exactly a month ago, yesterday. Being able to watch every brick going into my new house is really exciting and that was what was driving me to make the move during lockdown. But the big downside was one I had not thought through thoroughly. I am a big picture person and along the way, the smaller details often get neglected. No, I am not talking about the downtime of the internet though that worries me in terms of my coaching practice. But it is a consequence of internet down-time.
Integrating into a new community during lockdown is nigh impossible. Everybody is hiding behind masks, which means you don’t see facial features. If you don’t know the person it becomes easy to miss the nuances in a conversation. But in scary times like these people are avoiding strangers because of fear of contagion. You know more or less which of your friends are being careful, so you can trust them, but a stranger – what can they spread??
So, given the difficulty of meeting new people, I have clung to my friends in Cape Town. For example, I said goodbye to my book club in January, but I find myself still attending their meetings online each month because it is contact with people whom I know.
The fact that everyone is missing contact with their close friends and family is a known fact. In the same vein, I came across an interesting article on the importance of casual acquaintances or “weak ties” as the author calls them. This refers to the teller at the local Spar who greets you as a regular customer, the people you have been greeting and chatting to on your walks for years and you only remember their dog’s name, or even a colleague who works in a different department but greets you in the corridor when you pass. These greetings have been found to make our day generally happier. In “normal times” we interact with somewhere between 11 and 16 weak ties per day.
So what has happened to these in times of COVID? Staying home so much of the time has meant far less contact with casual acquaintances, people you pass regularly in the street, parking attendants at your favourite Mall, supermarket tellers and so on. I have reduced my grocery shopping to once a week, for example, and there is no more popping into the corner café every time I have forgotten something. When my attention was drawn to this, I realise I do miss the contact. And when I dget to greet people behind the mask I find it difficult to interpret their response when I only see their eyes. In a new community where I know virtually no-one I have built up very few “weak ties”.
So, in times of COVID we find ourselves needing to develop or our weak ties or find new ones. You can do this by greeting people without expecting a reply, contacting those you have not chatted to in a while, reaching out to people who have affected you in the past, or sharing something personal about yourself with an acquaintance. I have notices myself greeting the teller in the supermarket and the person squirting hand sanitizer at the door as though I know them.
Are you missing the casual contact with other people?