Thursday, 13 May 2021

THE coronavirus has rammed home what social animals we are.

Being denied social inter-action for several weeks has shown how we need each other not only for everyday survival but also for a sense of self.

If I don’t interact with others, who am I? We define ourselves through those around us and by mixing with others. I know who I am because you know who I am.

We see ourselves partly through the gaze of other people. If there is no one around me, then where does that leave me — some sort of domestic Robinson Crusoe?

Both aspects — our physical interdependence and our social reliance — are illustrated by simple yet profound stories from rabbinic literature.

The former is highlighted by the tale of two men who went to sea in a rowing boat. Suddenly, one of them got out a hand-drill and started making a hole in the keel under his seat.

The other man screamed: “What are you doing, the water’s flooding in?”

His companion replied: “Don’t worry, the hole is only under my seat”.

So obvious, but it has been easy to forget how much we rely on others, be it truckers, shelf-stackers or the NHS — and how we sink or sail together.

The need for camaraderie is just as strong, as in the story, Honi, the Jewish equivalent of Rip van Winkle, who fell asleep for 70 years. When he awoke, his friends and family had died. Those to whom he did try to talk were not interested in him. He felt isolated, desperate, prayed to God for death and God answered his prayer. From this, the rabbis derived a saying: “Either comradeship or death.”

Hopefully, we have not got to that extreme but we are feeling the impact of the lack of human contact and hence all those straining to get back to our previous freedom of movement. Let’s hope we can do it safely.

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