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We Are Social Animals

By Bob Priest-Heck

At 8 p.m. each evening of late, in my neighborhood outside San Francisco, you can hear a vigorous howling rolling down the mountains and up the canyon. It’s not wolves. It’s my neighbors. We are greeting each other in a primal way — letting each other know that we can reach out with our voices if not with our hands, that we are okay, and that we appreciate the extraordinary efforts of the healthcare workers whom we cannot thank in person.

Home is a beautiful place, but the more I stay home, the more I need to see more people. It seems as if we’ve been socially distancing for months, instead of a few weeks. And though we are separated, the pandemic has touched us all in this singular way — we are craving human connection. I am grateful for the video phone apps that let me stay in touch with friends and extended family. Streaming video has made work continuation possible. But, sometimes, I really just want to be in the same room with colleagues. I want to look directly into their eyes when they’re telling me about a big idea. I want to put a hand on their shoulder when I thank them for what seems like a thankless effort. I know my mom’s okay, but I want to fly to Indiana and give her a reassuring hug.

I think isolation makes us feel more vulnerable than we are. It creates a head-space that we fill with anxiety and dread. I now have a better understanding about why the worst punishment we can inflict on another human being is to put them in solitary confinement. Clearly, I wouldn’t last long. We are wired to be with our family, tribe, clan, school, denomination, company and team.

We are truly social animals. And we are better together. That’s the human experience.

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