People are a pleasure to be around
Much needed Human interaction is missing in the “new normal” of the Covid-19 Era
The eminent Psychologist, Sigmund Freud, defined “isolationism” as a mind’s “defense mechanism” against perceived threats. In plain English, that translates into people avoiding each other so that their feelings or self-image won’t suffer. Like most psychobabble, you always have to wonder if the concepts discussed have any practical relevance to our daily lives or are just another exercise in navel gazing by bored academics.
I thought of this today as we were having coffee at home, instead of lounging comfortably at one of our favorite coffee stops. The new normal of “Social distancing” has pretty much put an end to this enjoyable past time, at least until the warmer weather makes more venues available. So, even the routine chore of buying groceries or other necessities has become an outlet for much needed human interaction. True, everyone in these facilities is masked. And collectively, we looked like a cast of actors in a scene from an old T.V. western. But, at least our eyes could seek out others in a form of non-verbal communication. You can say a lot with your eyes if you wish to.
Even despite the lack of this needed interaction, some people avoided the experience, engaged in their own personal bubble of existence. A woman near us in line was engaged in a loud cell phone conversation, completely ignoring her mate, who stood nearby, bored and yes isolated. A young lad near them, was engaged in full “head down” mode as he manipulated information on his I-phone. He too was both isolated and insulated from everyone around him.
I am not sure whether this type of behavior is a classic case of isolation, as a defense mechanism, or worse, merely an utter disinterest with everyone around them, a monomaniac laser-like focus on their own small life and circle of interests. The very young and the very old are naturally subject to this form of egocentric behavior. Perhaps it is nature’s way. I know that in large cities like New York, visiting outlanders are often stunned by the apparent callous disinterest of the natives towards those around them. In these crowded, aggressive, venues, perhaps Freud hits the nail on the head. If you don’t interact with your surroundings, in difficult situations, you have less of a chance of getting hurt emotionally. Maybe the mentality evolved from the time when we lived in caves and wore bearskins. Anyone new arriving on the scene was indeed considered a threat to the clan.
This mode of isolation is distinctly a loss, in our opinion, for those so self-engaged. As retirees, we no longer have the daily stimulation of the people you mingle with in the work experience. So, we needed to create our own mode of interactions with the world around us. In the pre-Corona era, sitting in a coffee shop, or enjoying recreational sports or using the gym for workouts helped bridge the gap. Dinner with friends was also was a much-treasured experience.
In all of these venues, we would find interesting groups and pairs of people enjoying their surroundings and each other’s conversations. We have become acquainted with many of these fine folks, over the last few years in our favorite activities, as we shared the pleasantries of the day with them on multiple occasions. Like all friends and family, they are diverse of personality and unique individuals who enliven our day. Each has an interesting life experience to talk about. We were much enriched by meeting and talking with them a few times a week.
And what of the isolated ones? We don’t really know who they are. They drift through our lives, and those of the people around them, as isolated nomads avoiding contact and missing out on all of the pleasure of human interaction. Maybe they do indeed feel safer for the lack of human contact, but I wonder if they know how much they are missing? I know we feel the loss acutely. People however difficult sometimes are a decided asset in our daily lives.
I wonder if Freud is right and the “isolated ones” are avoiding the admittedly messy detritus of human interaction as a defense mechanism? The Good Lord knows that we all have friends and family who could try the patience of a risen Christ on an Easter Sunday morning. In spite of this, the rewards of interacting with scores of people, from different and interesting places and cultures, much rewards us for our efforts. So, we smile, say hello and chat amiably with those around us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. In the “new normal” of living in the time of the Corona Virus, we hope to develop newer ways to restore our communications with the people around us. Our lives will be much richer for the experience.
Joseph Xavier Martin