Monday, April 19, 2021

How I learned to be a bit less judgmental about social distancing

Earlier in the pandemic, I was very judgmental of students hanging around outside in groups and not respecting six-foot spacing. Fairly quickly I realized that it is inadvisable for the university to rebuke students for doing this, since such rebukes are likely to lead to their taking such interactions to private indoor venues, which would be much worse from a public health standpoint. But that practical consideration did not alleviate my strong judgmental feelings.

Eventually, however, these observations have made me realize that in our species, there is a natural desire to spend time in relatively close physical proximity to each other. And indeed, this is quite unsurprising in warmblooded social animals. Realizing that social distancing—however rationally necessary—requires people to go against their natural instincts has made me quite a bit less judgmental about noncompliance.

It took observation of others to realize this, because apart from practicalities, I find myself to prefer something like two meter spacing for social interaction with people outside my family. Greater physical distance from people outside my family has been quite pleasant for me. A conversation at two meters feels a little bit less stressful than at one meter. But looking at other people, it is evident that my preference here is literally unnatural, and that for other people such distancing is quite a burden.

Of course, sometimes it is morally necessary to go against one’s natural desires. It is natural to flee fires, but fire fighters need to go against that desire. And in circumstances where it is morally necessary to go against natural desires, people like me who lack the relevant natural desires are particularly fortunate and should not be judgmental of those for whom the actions are burden.

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