Social Distancing

COVID-19.

There will be no more

Wisdom, integrity, and compassion

Among us, and only through

Self-centeredness

We will overcome this

Calamity

We are eager to end our

Responsibilities to one another

We have

Our own needs to fulfill

We are looking beyond the fact that we have

People who are dying

Families who are hurting

Neighbors who are lacking

Friends who are crying

So I choose to consider

My freedom

Is more urgent than

Your safety

And I tell you

Fend for yourself

May you never need to

Ask for my help

We are in this together

What a lie!

COVID-19 turns us all inward.

FormalPara Poet’s Statement

This is a reverse poem, meant to be read first in the forward direction (top-to-bottom), then in the reverse direction (bottom-to-top). Read in the forward direction, the poem depicts a mindset centered on one’s self-interests during the present pandemic. In the reverse direction, the poem rebuffs and reimagines this way of thinking, transforming it into a benevolent posture that considers the needs of others who are suffering.

This piece emerged from my reflection on the different decisions that people are making amidst the ever-present threat of this virus. I see a primary tension existing between the notions of freedom and social responsibility. The poem is not intended to criticize freedom of movement, particularly when livelihoods rest upon it. Rather, it urges us to examine whether we are misusing freedom to prioritize our comfort at the expense of another’s health and wellbeing. Such misuses are avoidable, just as the mindset contributing to them is “reversible.”

Recently, some have advocated using and practicing the concept of “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” The idea is to remain socially connected but physically apart in order to protect both mental and physical health. One who maintains the posture represented in the reverse reading of the poem understands that physical and not social distancing is our present moral imperative. This person is in no way “social distancing” but, in fact, helping to bridge the distance between us by their kindness, understanding, and willing self-sacrifice. In our present times, this is needed now more than ever.

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Correspondence to Howard A. Chang.

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Chang, H.A. Social Distancing. Acad Psychiatry 44, 681 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40596-020-01283-0

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