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What Our Prehistoric Ancestors Taught Us about Social Connection (and Why COVID Changed All That)

Let us turn back the clock several million years. We humans survived in small groups of families and clans. We sat around campfires, we ate the food from some animal we had captured, we felt safe, warm, and protected. And equally important, we connected.

From these early campfire encounters, our DNA has evolved to share our stories, our triumphs, our tragedies, and our hopes for the future. When the pandemic disintegrated our societies in the spring of 2020, our lives were absolutely turned upside down. We could not meaningfully congregate, and the nurturing energy of face-to-face communication simply did not happen. The “magic” of Zoom and related platforms quickly dissipated because it did not fill our need for human contact.

And we were left to drift in the mindless world of social media and its artificial citadel of isolation.

The Need to Tell Our Story

As people congregate once again with a false sense that the pandemic is somehow over (it is not), there remains that need to tell the story and to share experiences.

We were invited to play golf with a couple whom we did not know very well. Professionals in their sixties. The gentleman commented that a terminally ill uncle may have accelerated his demise by taking a higher dose of pain medicines than usually recommended. This profoundly troubled the storyteller. He asked the question, “Well, what would I do under similar circumstances?” Without ready access to a healthcare professional, curbed by COVID, and the limits of telemedicine, any one of us could make medical mistakes.

As I was walking from a parking lot to an outdoor dining facility, I ran into a man I knew to be vibrant and gregarious. But no longer. He had been a sought-after motivational speaker, traveling the circuit to reach audiences across the country. COVID ended that career as it ended many other people’s livelihoods. His career had unraveled, and even with a lifting of restrictions, he honestly admitted he lost that confidence to stand in a venue not knowing if he could be infected with COVID.

When Peggy and I were walking the dogs, we met a neighboring couple. They engaged us in conversation about the current political crises, the blistering and divisive controversy about abortion, and they wanted us to simply listen to their concerns about aging, inflation, and just the stuff of life. We respectfully listened, validated their angst.

They were not expecting any solutions or resolutions, just somebody to listen, and this prehistoric campfire is being rekindled on curbs and sidewalks in neighborhoods everywhere. That human connection longs to survive.

On another walk downtown, I met a woman whose father I had cared for thirty-five years ago. She was still grieving his death but remembered that at least someone showed some compassion for his illness. And I remember their encounters as if it were yesterday. The husband of this woman is a major financial wizard for a conglomerate of retirement funds. This is a crushing responsibility especially as retirement funds head south during the financial situation now.

I was shocked to note his massive weight gain, and we know from a survey of 15 million patient records, about 40% of patients gained weight during the pandemic, and a small percentage gained over 27.5 pounds.

We have been isolated--with little human contact outside our bubble. We lost the motivation to maintain a fundamental level of fitness. But at least now the shackles of the pandemic have been loosened, he can get back on track. But will he? Will others? Will you?

Regaining the Losses COVID Created

We know that the isolated, the marginalized do not do well and there is a healing nurturing power to those mundane casual discussions over a golf ball, while fishing for that trophy catch, or at the water cooler. Or the people we meet when we walk the dog.

Time is running out. We need to get back to where we were or there will be no one left to turn out the lights.

I say that with this caution: The immunological protection from our vaccinations is decreasing month by month, and as we get into the early fall, there is the concern about another onslaught of COVID. A new concept about the course of this virus is called “immunological evasiveness.” These mutations are much like a stealth bomber that can fly below the radar and cause lots of damage. How long will be chase this elusive virus?

Bottom line: We humans are social creatures, are hard-wired to connect, to share, to care. COVID-19 sabotaged these fundamental principles and is a factor in the cultural disintegration that we see each day in the media—and, quite frankly, among our friends and neighbors and others we are reconnecting with.

Reconnecting after COVID's devastating effects on human interactions.

Photo from Unsplash.


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