Why ‘Social Distancing’ is the wrong phrase in times like this

April 7, 2020
April 7, 2020 Admin

Why ‘Social Distancing’ is the wrong phrase in times like this

If you haven’t heard of the Stockdale Paradox (made famous by business guru Jim Collins in his book  Good to Great) here is a quick summary:

When he and his men were captured and for 7 years held in POW camps during the Vietnam war, US Admiral James Stockdale found that the most positive of his men were the ones that fared really badly. As he says:

They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

In other words, these men tended to ignore the reality of the situation, would quickly lose hope, and die.

He found that the men that did the best were always the ones that didn’t try to ignore the suffering and uncertainty, but rather acknowledged the reality of the situation while holding firm to the belief that they would get through in the end:

This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

While this is a very important lesson, what is often left out the story is exactly how these men held onto the belief that they could and would survive.

It’s social connection.

One form of torture is isolation, and their captors put each man in separate, windowless concrete cells. Knowing the detrimental effects of isolation on the human psyche, Stockdale created a finger tapping system of communication with his mean so that they could ‘speak’ to each other through the walls of their cells. Many would say afterwards that it was this continued connection to each other that saved them.

While we are hearing about the concept Social Distancing at the moment, a better wording is Physical Distancing. You want physical distance yourself from people but stay connected to them emotionally. In fact, one sign of depression is withdrawing from people. Make sure you stay connected, and importantly, by doing so, help others that may be battling to feel that they are not alone in this.