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Keeping Distance, And Perspective In A Pandemic

The corona virus has changed the way we do just about everything.  How we shop, or don't, how we socialize and even how we see other people.  Just the same, being people, we still tend to be judgemental of others, even in a pandemic - as WUWF commentator Carl Wernicke explains in this weeks essay.

Strange times make for strange happenings. Navigating a pandemic that makes each of us a threat to the other has us rethinking social norms. In a very short time, something called social distancing has become our new normal.

It will take time to adjust, because it upsets the long-established patterns of our lives. And at the moment, I still find myself confused by contradictory impulses.

For example, my first reaction to someone who isn’t exercising social distancing is irritation. Don’t they know they might be carrying the virus?

But when a family member or someone I have known for years obviously is keeping his or her distance, I’m a bit insulted. What, do they think I’m some kind of virus carrier or something?

It takes a moment to realize that I can’t have it both ways, nor do I want to. It’s just that my rational mind is at war with my ingrained habits and social understandings, and the result is at least momentary confusion.

Which makes it a good idea these days to keep your mouth shut a beat or two longer, in order to keep from putting your foot in it.

For instance, I was leaving the grocery store the other day, loading my purchases on my bicycle, which was chained to a post on the sidewalk near the front door.

It was a methodical process. I had to put one bag in the basket and one in the saddle bag and make sure they were secure for the ride home. I had to unlock and disentangle the chain and clip it back to its holder, put my sunglasses on, stick my earplugs in and fumble with the phone to restart my podcast.

In other words, the usual. And being an old retired guy with not much else to do I wasn’t in any hurry anyway.

That’s when I noticed a masked woman standing patiently on the sidewalk, looking at me; I was between her and the door, and I realized that she didn’t want to pass me on the sidewalk, and was waiting for me to leave. She waited and waited, and finally cut around through the parking lot to avoid me altogether.

Well, I thought, that’s a little over the top, even in these times. But as I rode off I started thinking. Maybe she is a cancer survivor with a compromised immune system. Maybe she has elderly parents at home. Maybe she lives alone, needed groceries, was feeling ill … and was protecting me from her.

And just like that I was back to feeling guilty about making judgments on people I know nothing about.

Like many people I’m prone to make quick judgments about what other people are doing or saying, based on little actual information. That is, it’s mostly in my head, which can be treacherous terrain.

So I headed home to go sit on my porch near the nest the wrens are tending under the eaves. This irritates them, so when one of them sits on the fence, looks straight at me and chirps loudly, there’s no misunderstanding: it’s clearly my fault.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.