Why I Don’t do “Social Bubbles”
A couple of months ago, following our government’s lifting of some of the Covid-19 distancing restrictions, a friend of mine asked if I’d like our families to “bubble” together. This was part of Ontario’s “re-opening” plan and an effort to allow individuals social interactions in committed groups of 10.
My heart cringed at the request to bubble — and not because I didn’t want to hug this friend and have her join us in my living room sofa. It would’ve been more practical if our boys could play basketball together and not worry about potentially touching each other or sharing the same basketball during the game. But the request did not land softly in the veins of my heart, which feel others. The thought of bubbling with only some — having to choose with whom to bubble — didn’t jive with me in the least.
Bubbling meant there’d be restrictions and commitments of exclusion. Even though sometimes the perimeters and boundaries of a particular bubble become blurred and lines get crossed all over, at its core, it’s a decision I believe to be exclusionary. A declaration of one’s hierarchy of friendships, resembling the Grade 4 best friends list.
As imperfect as it may feel, remaining 6 ft. apart, outdoors, offered me the opportunity to, at least, interact with multitudes of individuals.
While I haven’t been formally inviting anyone over, my friends, students, family know they’re welcomed to drop by. As always, they know that they have a place that they can comfortably be themselves — and at this time, that place is in one of the many Muskoka chairs in my yard.
I’ve noticed that this pandemic has interestingly highlighted many of our pre-existing social dysfunctions. From consumerism and workaholism, ageism to the medicalization, and politicization of health and illness. I wonder whether these times turned the light on in our society, and we can see pre-coronavirus individual values more clearly, as well? Do our government “re-opening” policies and protocols give us more legitimacy to practice social exclusion than before?
We have all been moved by videos of communities come together in song on their balconies while isolation, fear and uncertainty plagued the globe. This is the beauty of humanity. It is the togetherness that lifts our spirits and helps us survive difficult times.
I’ve learned that just because something has been labelled civically legal, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the morally right thing to do or say. Despite rightfully striving to ensure the greatest health safety and comfort for ourselves and those around us, we still need to think for ourselves.
We need to assess the more significant outcomes of the many protocols we’ve put in place during this time — and the ones that will follow as a society (and the world) continues opening up further. Bubbling is a socially constructed term that connotes positivity and safety. But social bubbles are by nature, exclusionary and socially destructive. Let’s not call anti-social measures social.
By and large, social bubbles respond to our physical safety needs, and some even argue our emotional safety needs. And as justified as they may seem, they bring with them the heavy expense of others’ personal needs, as well. By definition, social bubbles exclude people, so many consequently don’t feel that they truly “belong” or are accepted in circles they once thought they were a part of. Some neighbourhood dynamics have turned into high school cafeterias scenes. Friends have shared their feelings around this bubbling, and my heart broke for them. They felt excluded, rejected and isolated. It’s personal and hurtful.
American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed a bio-psycho-social Hierarchy of Needs which describes human needs as universal and in a hierarchy sequence of conditions. In this system, our most basic needs lie at the foundation of the pyramid. They are necessary conditions that enable us to fulfill our more advanced needs as we strive to self-actualize and attain greater meaning in life. At the very foundation of this list lies our physiological needs of food, clothes, shelter, etc. Our government understands this, so much of their energies and policies are directed to ensure that these essential physiological and safety needs are being met.
But can we find ways to meet them without sabotaging the essential needs for acceptance and belonging in our neighbourhoods and communities?
If we got scared when toilet paper and yeast flew off the shelves in exceedingly high demand at the beginning of our pandemic, I worry that our acceptance and feelings of belonging might be the next big thing to fly into scarcity. I fear the long-lasting social impact of our legitimized exclusionary best friends list.
When our kids return to school in the coming weeks will they replicate our bubbling practices and use them within the playground at recess? Have we unintentionally opened up doors for greater opportunities for bullying or forced isolation?
Indeed, we may have limited agency over the damage that Covid-19 has caused to families, our economy and other areas of society and daily living. As humans, we can get through this by sticking together and supporting each other.
How will our human need of connectivity and belonging be met in our current society and in the coming months as the pandemic drags on? We are regretfully developing an unprecedented aversion to humans in the process of protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the spread of Covid-19 on the biological level. An aversion that is humanly unnatural and unsustainable.
Let’s work together to ensure that we don’t lose our social sensitivity and humanity in that process. Let’s look out for each other. We might have unintentionally created exclusionary bubbles, perhaps on survival-mode and in stressful times. It might be time to begin popping them (before they become irreversible social norms) as we rethink what it means to be there for each other!