It has been more than a year since the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, but we still do not have statistics that can accurately gauge its impact on our social lives, businesses, educations and future.
The outbreak has left mankind divided in its approach toward dealing with the situation. Aside from the basic precautions, we are still working on a trial-and-error basis when it comes to its treatment using different vaccines. Deaths caused by the virus have made up what experts consider to be the biggest mass casualty event since World War II.
This article shall explore the role of cultural values in a society’s adherence to social distancing to check the spread of the virus. We shall also consider the cultural, economic and systematic differences between Saudi Arabia and the US. This article will mainly focus on behavioral patterns.
Social distancing can be defined as measures, methods and nonmedical interventions that help contain contagious diseases by avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining physical distance between people. This measure, combined with the use of face masks, good respiratory hygiene and hand washing, is considered the most effective way to curb the spread of disease. One may argue that physical distancing may be a more appropriate term, since the measure involves avoiding physical contact rather than interpersonal contact.
In a bid to check the spread of the virus, we need to suppress one of the very basic human needs: Direct communication. Humans tend to rely on each other for goods and services, including food, shelter and clothing. We depend on each other emotionally for compassion, understanding, friendship and love. To satisfy these basic needs, we meet friends and socialize.
In a bid to check the spread of the virus, we need to suppress one of the very basic human needs: Direct communication.
We should also keep in mind that every individual reacts to social isolation and the resulting stress differently. In every society, there are different people coping with mental issues of varying intensity or magnitude, such as social anxiety, depression, loneliness and substance abuse. Such conditions are bound to make individuals more vulnerable. Despite their importance and usefulness, social distancing measures are taking a toll on the mental health of people and affecting social ties.
Nevertheless, to show respect or love to someone in some cultures, you must touch the other person either by kissing a cheek, hugging or shaking hands. Some cultures assume that if someone keeps his or her distance from another party, that it means he or she is neglecting, underestimating or disrespecting that person. In the culture that I come from, we mainly describe people who maintain distance as arrogant or rude.
Truth be told, the ongoing social distancing measures go totally against Saudi traditions. It is affecting other aspects of our lives, as people are too afraid of helping those who need physical support out of fear of the virus. This aversion to helping others runs contrary to our basic principles, but the pandemic has rendered us helpless.
The situation calls for strengthening our existing social support systems to cope with such unforeseen circumstances effectively.
The pandemic is also changing our views on hygiene issues, large gatherings and sitting next to other people. It seems that a new culture based on fear is fast taking shape and we may never be able to go back to the old ways of thinking again.
It has become a struggle to strike a balance between our battle for survival and maintenance of our social lives.
Due to the quarantine and social distancing, schools switched to virtual learning methods, using tools such as Zoom and pre-recorded learning videos. Such tools have created what is known as “Zoom fatigue.” Similarly, students are becoming less interested in activities, isolated and lazy, which in turn will affect the way they develop and grow.
On the other hand, a highly qualified teacher could be untrained to conduct teaching in virtual settings and may find it hard to adapt to the virtual community building, an essential block in remote learning environments. The skill set is simply not transferable.
Social distancing is also considered detrimental to economic health, primarily for businesses that depend mainly on customers’ in-person interaction. These measures only allow a limited number of people to be in an area at once.
Likewise, employment interviews have been limited, and it has become more challenging for the HR personnel to interview, evaluate and assess candidates’ body language, which hinders their ability to make an ideal choice. Also, extended working hours while wearing masks has affected team spirit and productivity.
• Heba Khashoggi is an executive director with a background in business culture development and communicating change. She is also a children’s books author.