Social Camaraderie in A Season of Uncertainties

Social Camaraderie in a Season of Uncertainties

Social distancing does not mean social isolation

By Joshua Liong | 29 April 2020

Today, being physically close to someone can be considered a crime and “social distancing” is the mantra of the day. While this is necessary for our long fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, we could be distancing ourselves from important connections, and forget the needs of those outside our social circle.

After all, no man is an island and we inherently need connection. Scientist Matthew Lieberman, in Why We Are Wired To Connect, suggests that “we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed... we may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts”.

An unexpected “lock down”

I experienced my own season of uncertainties four years ago when I was diagnosed with Stage Three Thyroid Cancer. I was in despair at being stricken with a critical illness when my children were at a tender age. I grieved at the thought of possible death and it left me feeling helpless and hopeless.

My natural reaction was to retreat and isolate myself from the world. Thoughts like “no one would understand” “no one cares” and “everyone has their own problems” plagued my mind. Maybe it was simply my own pride that prevented me from asking for help.

Amanda Palmer, author of The Art of Asking, says it best: “From what I've seen, it isn't so much the act of asking that paralyses us - it's what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one”.

One of the lessons I have learned from this cancer experience is this — all of us can thrive in difficult times when we embrace the power of social camaraderie.

Alone, but not lonely

As part of my cancer treatment of radioactive iodine therapy, I was required to be quarantined for two weeks, away from my family and any human contact. A family friend, who was staying in the same area, offered to gather a group of her friends to support me by cooking meals and delivering them to my place. I was reluctant at first because I did not want to be a burden but eventually accepted the help.

The “Nourish Joshua” team was given strict instructions to simply leave the food at my door, ring the doorbell and leave. However, we communicated through WhatsApp and with every meal, the WhatsApp group became an exchange of daily conversations, of gratitude and descriptions (a review, of sorts) of the different cuisines I received. I was blessed to be a food traveler... from the comfort of my living room.

During those two weeks, these daily "distractions" became my source of encouragement and enlightenment of what social camaraderie can do for a person in distress. I did not have the chance to see their faces, or thank them in person, so I sent them these words of gratitude:

“The past two weeks have been quite the adventure, living the life of Quasimodo but feeling the enormous hospitality and care from all of you… Amazing food not only nourishes the body but it nourishes the soul. My soul has truly been nourished because with every bite, I am reminded of the goodness and faithfulness of God, demonstrated through each and every one of you. My soul is also filled because I know that every meal was prepared from a place of kindness and thoughtfulness. All of you are the epitome of true hospitality and love.”

The ripple effect from a small act

This experience has taught my family and me the power of small deeds. We started a new family tradition of Hospitality Sundays, where a guest will be invited to dine with us. Just as we have been blessed by the kindness of others, we in turn, wanted to invest our time and effort in building meaningful connections with others through simple dinners.

This became such a norm in our family life that my children continue with it even when I am on overseas assignments. Although we provide only simple meals of pastas and salads, it brings warmth to our guests and goes a long way to inculcate in my children the value of hospitality and service towards others. In fact, our kids started to occasionally pack an extra portion of snacks for recess, to give a friend in need. The joy is evident in them as they share.

While our news have been dominated by statistics and sad reports, there’s also been heartwarming stories of regular folks choosing to step out of their comfort zones to help others.

I have a friend, whose family came together to bless the homeless with hand sanitisers and surgical masks. His wife helped to get small bottles, his young daughter helped to pour the sanitising solution into them, he was the chauffeur, while his teenage son delivered the items by hand to the homeless.

Blessed to be a blessing

We were never meant to live life in isolation. We need to overcome our fear of being vulnerable and ask for help. Meaningful connections with families and friends help us to thrive and become better people. Even in difficult times, we can find meaning in showing and receiving kindness and hospitality.

PM Lee Hsien Loong encouraged us all in his recent address on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore on 3 April 2020: “It will be a long fight. But if any country can see this through, it is Singapore. We have the resources. We have the determination. We are united. By helping one another through this, we will prevail, and emerge stronger.”

In these times of stricter “circuit breaker” measures, how can we band even closer together (sans the physical interactions) to reach out and be a blessing to the families around us?

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


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