It is remarkable that within a three month period, that one of the base building blocks of person to person relationships would change. This change is so markedly clear, in that there is a “before” state, and event, and then an “after” state. We are in the “after” state of the effects of CoVid-19, the corona virus that originated from Wuhan, China.
Where once we could meet strangers, make conversation and become friends quickly, there is now a wall of suspicion, a hesitation to greet the stranger, an unwillingness to start a discussion. We all do not want to catch this virus, get sick, possibly hospitalized, and then die. We have no immunity whatsoever from this novel corona virus.
Much of our society is based on the ability to meet and converse with strangers. This includes walking into a new store and shopping, going to entertainment events both big and small, travel and discovery in foreign lands, helping people that seem to be in trouble, meeting family and old friends. It is all very disconcerting that we can no longer do these most basic tasks without the shadow of a virus leaning over our shoulder, holding us back from the interaction.
This is a game changer, and goes against much of the social interactions of what it means to be human. As we wait possibly a couple of years for a vaccine, these changes to relationships may be habitualized, possibly within a very short couple of months. These changes would then become more permanent and therefore, when a vaccine does come, more difficult to revert back to our former habits.
The Asian customs of trusting who you know and your contacts, your “guanxi 关系” comes to mind. To break into a societal group you need to know someone within the group, someone who can vouch for you. This must be kin blood relationship or an older relationship. Non-blood relationships can be from a common village, marriage, or a long-term significant relationship built over a long time. You do not trust strangers. You do not offer help to strangers, there is no Good Samaritan law. There is no moral obligation to help those that you do not know, no matter the situation. In this society you really are completely dependent on your group and no one else. A single person cannot survive in this environment. Independent travel is precarious.
The person that vouches for you in the group has a stake in ensuring you behave according to the group norms. If your relationship into the group then goes badly, it is that person’s face that will take reputational damage, and not fully trusted by the group for a while, if ever.
There were valid reasons for this type of societal law, as for many cultures for a long time, this was their norm. It is possible that one of these reasons was a killer virus. For our open society in Canada, this is radically new to us and is considered bad etiquette and morally wrong to not greet others with an open mind.
I am quite concerned.
The corollary of keeping to one’s group is that for our open society, we have few truly personal groups other than immediate family. Our society was not based on this tight local integration and unaccustomed to the practice. We have only our immediate families. This makes our current “after” existence much more isolating. Stuck in our homes we have access to tools such as a telephone and internet, where we can reach out to others very far away, but can no longer meet them in person. This merely highlights our predicament and exacerbates our frustration.
What to do?
If you felt isolated before, what is there now in the “after” state? Isolation does have a heavy cost for such a social being as us humans.