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Spatial Not Social Distancing | Op-Ed

Gary Kinsman recently called for us to change our word choice from “social”, to “spatial” distancing. This may seem nitpicky, but it demonstrates how easy it is to forget about the full range of collective responsibilities we all have. The social means far more to some than getting together at a pub after a long shift. 


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Currently the government, health care workers, and your neighbours have called on you to physically distance yourself from others while washing your hands and increasing your general sanitation measures. We do this because we plainly see the benefits to our own health and safety. But in times when those well-situated are strained, those who are struggling are now in despair. Our social obligations to them still exist regardless of our new obligations.

Kinsman says “Without violating spatial or physical distancing we need to provide support and solidarity for people.” This may seem obvious to some, but when you look at the barely replenished shelves at your local grocery store, think about what that means for your local food bank? 

What about those who spend their nights on the streets? Where do they go when every restaurant’s bathroom is closed? This logic applies to all those who depend on the “social” components of our society. 

From those who need to access the food bank, to those who sit in coffee shops for hours on end to separate themselves from abusive partners on a bad day. Now is not the time to neglect those who are dependent on the social, but to adapt in how we aid them. 

Recently the Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote a letter to the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, about this sort of social neglect in regards to the homeless in Toronto. In this letter they raise an interesting point as to why we ought to engage in our collective responsibilities. 

“The overcrowded conditions in Toronto’s homeless facilities threaten not only the many vulnerable people who use these spaces, but also the shelters’ staff and volunteers, and the city’s broader neighbourhoods and communities.”

If we neglect the social by barricading ourselves in our rooms, playing Animal Crossing, getting groceries delivered to our homes, it may seem like we are fixing this issue. However, our social obligations are now more important than ever. If we fail to aid those most affected in times of crisis, then we are putting more strain on our healthcare workers, our food banks, our front line workers who are holding society together.

If you can, donate food, call your local representatives and inquire into what is being done to aid those most acutely affected by this, don’t hoard supplies, smile from 6 feet away at your neighbour, join a caremongering group, donate to a shelter

Most importantly, don’t socially isolate yourself, find new ways to be spatially distant, but socially present. Both you and I depend on it.

Have anything to add? Comment below and continue the conversation.