Social distance VS Physical distance

Note on how to cite this journal:

Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, 

In the midst of the global crisis caused by the COVID 19 virus pandemic, we encounter information that is opposed to each other on a daily basis. The unknown of the new disease surprised medical experts, while the intervention was necessary as soon as the first case of infection was identified. The first analyzes and research followed, as well as the placement of research papers whose views were divided.

Discrepancies in the way the disease is defined by its nature, the way the organism reacts to it have contributed to the creation of insecurity and fear in people. Opposing views on epidemiological and clinical protocols are only part of the segment of the general disorientation of the global public in the new situation. One of the terms that we hear every day and is related to the most important measure, in order to combat the virus, is social or physical distance.

We will give the answer to the question of why we see two semantically completely different terms in modern and traditional media and why they confuse the interpretation as well as the way people behave. Undoubtedly, the appearance of the new virus has created an environment of epistemological ambivalence both for experts from many relevant scientific fields and for citizens. This ambivalence creates a feeling of insecurity, fear, frustration, and possible, conflict. We will look at the benefits and negative sides of information through modern technological achievements and answer the question of whether we are informed or that in just one day we receive so much information that we are not able to process them, resulting in ignorance.

Does the information in modern society leads to its opposite – uninformed or even worse to the point of overinformed. Does mediation has its purpose in the age of a pandemic and at what levels can its application contribute to reducing tensions and reducing the number of conflicts? We will answer all the questions in the context of the primary topic of the paper, whether to adhere to social or physical distance as the most important measures in order to prevent the spread of infection. Although little is known about the nature of the virus, it is certain that physical distance is an effective measure to prevent the spread of infection. The World Health Organization uses the term physical distance. However, the use of the term social distance is more present in everyday communication.

According to research by electronic media, the Google search engine gives over a million results on the term social distance, while the term physical distance is far less represented in the search. The ratio of searched results is 1,700,000 to 480,000 in favor of social distance. Knowing that Google is one of the most popular internet content search engines, we consider it relevant and leads us to the conclusion that the term social distance is far more applied than physical distance.

In the context of the COVID pandemic, the physical distance recommended by the World Health Organization means keeping a physical distance of another person at 6 feet. Wearing gloves, protective masks as well as applying preventive measures upon arrival home. This measure does not prohibit interaction between people, but only physical distance. Physical distance does not abstract the emotional connection between people. The question is, do we remain social beings in the age of a pandemic? Of course, the answer is yes.

Although world experts recommend the use of the term physical distance, the media as well as social networks use the wrong term more. In sociology as well as psychology, the term social distance appears in order to give explanations and definitions for psychological states of man such as Depression, social phobia, panic disorders, paranoia, and many other forms of pathological psychological states of man.

If we start from the basic postulate that man is a social animal or being, asocial behavior, as well as antisocial behavior, is not treated as a normal and sustainable state of the human psyche. This is another reason to draw more attention to the numerous negative consequences that the promotion of social distance as a concept of normal and socially acceptable behavior can bring with it.

If we assume that social distance is adopted as a model of socially acceptable behavior, imagine a city inhabited by people who are turned exclusively to themselves and their immediate family environment with an aversion to strangers. In such an environment, violent behavior, running away from classes, frequent peer violence, disrespect for authority in the figures of parents and teachers would most likely be present among young people. Social distance would lead to huge intolerance among people. Can we imagine order in a waiting room where people adhere to social distances? There would be tremendous tension and interpersonal conflicts between them that escalate into verbal and physical conflicts. In such a cold city, it would not be nice and acceptable to say good morning with a smile. No one would notice the fall of the old woman who stumbled.

Greenlight for pedestrians would not matter, the street would be crossed without respecting the prescribed rules. In such a city there would be no empathy, no concern for the other, no solidarity until the concept of any kind of collective activism was forgotten. In short, we would have a city of psychologically alienated and unhappy people, because let us remind you that social distance is not a natural psychological state of a person as a social being.

It is interesting that the concept of social distance represents those psychological states that otherwise require the intervention of psychotherapists and psychiatrists. In developmental psychology, healthy social interactions are defined as desirable and necessary for the formation of a mature and stable personality. When all the facts are taken into account, the unequivocal conclusion is reached that the application of the term social distance is undesirable, unsustainable and could be disastrous for society, peoples, and humanity. Therefore, the promotion of physical distance is the only solution and insistence on the application of the appropriate term as well as the appropriate model of behavior according to the situation in which the whole world finds itself. In the context of social distance, we will present several definitions of psychological states that would result in the application of social distance.

Antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial a personality disorder is characterized by behavioral symptoms such as: Lack of respect for social norms, false representation, cheating, for personal gain. Impulsiveness and inability to make plans, irritability, and aggressiveness entering into frequent physical confrontations. Not paying attention to personal and even less other people’s safety, lack of responsibility, lack of guilt and self-criticism. From the other side, an asocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of social skills and very often low self-confidence. These people are withdrawn and surrounded by a very small number of people. They feel comfortable in the comfort zone. An asocial personality type is often characterized by anxiety as well as frequent panic attacks and depression. They avoid situations in which they feel uncomfortable. They prefer independent activities and avoid teamwork. Psychologists describe them as introverted people withdrawn and strange. With the asocial type of personality, there is empathy with the impossibility to show it in the right way.

The primary difference between asocial and antisocial behavior is that asocial individuals are not prone to overt aggression although there is conflict on an intrapersonal level. Antisocial people clearly show their attitude towards the environment, in case of disagreement they recklessly enter into open verbal or physical conflict. Undoubtedly, we come to the conclusion that the promotion of social distance as a socially acceptable form of behavior leads to the creation of interpersonal conflicts of greater or lesser scope and care of psychological conditions that otherwise require the intervention of psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists.

Mediation as a conflict prevention mechanism during a pandemic

In this work, we present only one example of conflicting terms that appear during the pandemic of the COVID 19 virus. Discrepancies in their meanings in themselves lead to frustration among recipients of such inconsistent information, terms, and scientific studies.

The role of mediation is to point out the need for greater caution when publishing information on the most delicate topic. The pandemic of the new virus after the Spanish fever and the Second World War is one of the bigger challenges facing humanity. The appearance of discrepancies in the interpretation of facts, the application of terms leads to the appearance of insecurity and fear. On the intrapersonal level as well as on the intrapersonal level it leads to conflict. It is very important to point out the fact that, unlike the 20th century, now we get different information. It collects information through traditional and modern media as well as social networks.

Roger Bon, a professor at the University of California, came to the results of research according to which the human brain is extracted by hundreds of thousands of words while the brain processes about 34 gigabytes of information. The scope of information is such that the brain fails to process all the information that reaches it. Therefore, reduced attention is increasingly present as well as hyperactivity in the younger population. A huge amount of information, especially if there is a discrepancy in the way of interpreting a term or an event, without a doubt the recipient of the message leads to a state of confusion, fear, and even ignorance.

One of the questions we have asked is whether mediation has its place in the context of reducing tension due to misinformation, misinterpretation and interpretation of information placed in the media?

These situations are good for mediation in a preventive sense. Conflict prevention refers to the publication of verified information as well as the application of active communication of relevant institutions with citizens in all countries . The truthfulness of the information is in the service of combating panic and adequate behavior, which, as practice shows, is the most effective preventive measure in order to combat the pandemic.

Timely and accurate information is a kind of mediator that can break the tension of fear and stop conflicts. The challenge humanity is facing is great. Experiences so far tell us that only the developed awareness of responsible behavior towards one’s own health is at the same time responsible behavior towards the health of others.

Discipline, respect for the measures of the World Health Organization and state institutions that deal with this problem are the key to success in alleviating the pandemic. Discipline, respect for physical and not social distance results in a greater sense of respect for ourselves and the people around us.

The question is, does physical distance cause social distance?

There are situations in which two types of people meet, those who respect the measures and those who violate the measures of safe behavior during the pandemic. The meeting and interaction of representatives of two different categories of people can contribute to the creation of conflict. One side keeps a physical distance while the other side does not respect that. Such situations are often challenging conflicts to a greater or lesser extent. We are witnessing numerous such situations while the most drastic examples are reported by the media. One of them is that the man defended the physics of the child, that safe space around him with a knife because the other side behaved contrary to the prescribed measures. Fortunately, the incident ended with a threat without physical attacks and injuries.

What about emotional injuries, do they happen? The answer is, unfortunately, positive. Man as a social being strives for the closeness of members of his species, especially in situations when it is difficult, he longs for support and comfort, for a direct exchange of energy. This is a special aspect of the problem of physical distance. An emotional barrier of fear has been set. Fear of getting infected or infecting a person close to us.

We unequivocally come to the conclusion that we are in a phase when we have to learn to direct our positive energy and love towards dear people in a new, unknown way. This certainly leads to a state of sadness and perhaps helplessness. We face a challenge in the sense that we must learn ascetic patience and the will to protect ourselves and others. Again, the role of numerous campaigns that would be placed through the media and social networks would bring some relief and encouragement for people to adhere to the rules and to persevere in it until a cure or vaccine is found that will enable us to return to normal life.

Numerous studies that monitor human behavior during a pandemic have identified phases of so-called crisis fatigue. This phase can be dangerous because it has been noticed that during that period it happens that people give up and stop applying preventive measures. Epidemiologists as well as psychologists in all countries have the task of monitoring behaviors and in the event of a crisis fatigue to encourage people to overcome this psychological barrier again by stimulating drips of a kind of collective psychological therapies that will contribute to overcoming psychological barriers where media and social networks can play a very important role.

In support of the fact that the influence of the media in creating an image of current events is extremely important, says David Giles, who created the thesis that we live in a time of ubiquity of the media and that their importance is not only in transmitting information about events but also their participation in creating events. A special aspect of psychology is the psychology of the media, which favors the moments that man, as a memetic (imitating) being, unconditionally accepts and applies in everyday life. In the context of the COVID virus pandemic, we will reiterate the important role that the media play in the way, information is transmitted as well as in the creation of trends. The most important thing is to create a trend of responsible behavior, wearing masks, keeping physical distance, regular maintenance of living, working and public space. These are the mechanisms of the fight against the virus. At the same time, the media represent a kind of mediator who, through timely, accurate, positively motivational reporting, should strive to apply the trend of responsible behavior during the pandemic.

To conclude, the World Health Organization practices the use of the term physical distance, which is absolutely acceptable. With physical well-being, a person can maintain social closeness with her/his environment. It is not only possible but also obligatory because by creating an awareness of preserving ourselves and our health, we also protect our environment. That is why the moment of psychological closeness is very important. Empathy and caring for others is crucial in this period. Intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts can be prevented by timely and accurate reporting to the public on all aspects of the difficult and challenging situation facing all of humanity. In order to preserve physical health, psychological stability is necessary. One of the ways to maintain it is to create and apply trends of acceptable behavior in the field of preventive measures and love for oneself and others.


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