The Real Thing
Social Isolation - The Real Thing
by The Rt Revd Kate Wilmot | Assistant Bishop of Perth
When the COVID crisis hit, many of us found ourselves in situations that were much more solitary, without the usual interactions with family members, friends or work colleagues.
This was an opportunity to learn a memorable lesson about what things are like for the truly ‘socially isolated’ – those people who are so cut off from social networks that their lives do not change much as restrictions on gatherings and human interactions ease.
Social media shows how carefully we shape and curate the image of ourselves we want the wider world to see. The friends who are not photogenic, the slightly disreputable relatives, are less likely to appear in newsfeeds than those people we want others to think are ‘like us’.
As in social media, so in person, we are sometimes aspirational about our friends. We want to associate with people who help us feel that we are attractive, clever, successful, and fun.
We want to be around people who reflect in their own presentation the way we feel we are ourselves. The authentically socially isolated are not likely to be any of these people - though they probably started life as just like them. Like homelessness or poor mental health, real social isolation can be a matter of circumstance rather than deficient personality or bad decisions. Research has established that relational breakdown or loss, disability, ill health, unemployment, and differences in orientation or marital status or ethnicity can all contribute to people having smaller friendship groups or social connections.
When we think of our own friends and colleagues, when we think of ourselves – it’s horrifying to imagine that these factors could lead to any of us [or any of them] becoming seriously cut off from family, friendship groups or basic human connections.
The community offered by the church can’t be the whole answer to restoring an isolated person’s sense of belonging. For that, we need to reflect individually and theologically and to put that reflection into practise. Jesus had an unparalleled ability to see the people that others ignored and [in a status-driven culture] to understand them as valuable in their own right.
When St Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’, he was pointing to the way the Good News dissolves the barriers between the people who are ‘us’ and the people who are ‘them’, between the disadvantaged and the advantaged, between the ‘in group’ and the ‘out group’.
If we have gained ‘new eyes’ as a result of the lockdown, now might be the time to put that enhanced ‘vision’ into practise.