Satisfying our Social Hunger (From a Distance)
In this COVID era, we have probably experienced feelings of isolation or loneliness. Our tattered plans and distanced communities are reminders of a life before COVID, and the hope for what comes after. People have said,” But I thought this was only going to last a couple of weeks?” Yet, our reality is months later we are dealing with rules and restrictions that drive us further apart. These are truly unprecedented times. Saying this does not make what is happening any better, but I want us to know that it’s okay not to be okay.
So, where do we go from here? How can be we socially engaged communities while living socially distanced? For millennia, humanity has lived together in tribes that focused on problem solving, developing technology, and learning to create flourishing communities. So then, it must seem backwards that our community would ask us to limit our social contact with others.
When living through periods of isolation and separation, it is important to recognize our social hunger can cause us to consume “junk food” community. Which is, for example, staying up all night gaming with the squad chasing fleeting moments of dopamine-filled connection that all but disappears once morning classes begin. Though this kind of community certainly can tide us over for a night, it does not provide the sustenance we need to flourish socially. This, paired with our fears of missing out (FOMO), can wear down our resistance to social junk food leading us deeper into loneliness.
FOMO is a social illusion that eats away healthy social engagement. In college, there is abundant opportunity to find social connection. When we spread ourselves thin by saying “yes” to every club and organization, we enter numerous social contracts with several different people. In this scenario, depth and connection are hard to come by because our capacity for relationship is shared throughout our commitments. With this it can be easy to miss a meeting, cheapen shared experiences, and fail your groups. By focusing on fewer commitments, and entering intentionally into those social contracts, we will find our capacity for healthy relationship is increased.
In addition to increasing our relational capacity, working through FOMO will build our capacity for academic excellence. At NU, our community is focused on achieving our best with regards to academics. This place of learning is inhibited when we live at the mercy of FOMO. In saying “no” to opportunities, we develop healthy boundaries for our school-life balance. When we live in this balance, we can influence our community to begin to do the same.
Finding healthy community is hard work, especially at a distance. We must be intentional to seek out people who can satiate our social hunger by providing sustainable support. To find this community, we must look for people who are ready to challenge us, ask us to think critically, and value who we are as individuals. We should seek to be the kind of people who ask questions, share stories, respect the boundaries of others, and (as with all things) be quick to extend grace. We cannot live perfectly, but we can strive to do our very best, especially when caring for others.
Caring for others is a commitment. During this time, we must put extra thought into our social selections. Even if others choose to fill their time with social junk, I encourage us to live set apart; not above and over others, rather more simply, and balanced. This may mean saying “no” to some social connections but learning when to use this response will create space for a more sustainable “yes” to healthy relationships.