I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Unlike Thoreau, many of us are living, studying and working remotely, not by choice but due to a desire to act in accordance with the best scientific recommendations during the pandemic. We can still adopt Thoreau’s intentionality in how we attune ourselves to our social relationships. Reading Thoreau in September 2020 asks: What does social wellness look like in a time of social distancing?
Three types of conversations
Even though it might seem as though we are always communicating with others through technology, these interactions may not be fulfilling our need for deep human connection. Thoreau reminds us that we need to be regularly having three types of conversations.
- First, we need to be checking in regularly with ourselves. Whether by taking a walk, or by journaling or just sitting outside or with a cup of tea, spending time in “solitude” gives us a chance to see how we are doing.
- Next, we need to regularly be reaching out to someone close to us for conversation. Again, this could be a socially distanced walk or a check in phone call but it seems extra important to find out how another person in your life is doing and to be able to communicate to them how you are doing. To be vulnerable and to laugh and to listen, all of these opportunities are freely exchanged when you make time to be with a dear friend.
- Finally, we need to find creative ways to be with “society.” For fun, and the type of dialogue that can happen in groups. So, whether it is doing book group over Zoom or celebrating a graduation in a socially distanced outdoor space, gathering with groups produces a different type of conversation and allows us to articulate ourselves and listen to others in critically important ways.
While acclimating to so many new things –my house is my office and my children’s school–it is important not to sacrifice things we know to be good for our wellbeing. It may present more challenges to make the time to lay out those three different chairs but it may be more important now to do so than ever before. With the increased time spent with machines, it is critical to frequently reclaim our humanity.