I had a ‘home festival’ at home with my housemates the other day. Completely complying with the corona restrictions, we turned our house into a festival venue. We put up festive lighting, darkened the windows and played hours of techno.
One of our two guests at our home festival was a friend of my housemates. I got talking to her and she showed me some interesting projects that she’s working on. Without thinking about it anymore, we continued to party into the night.
After the festival, it I realised that this encounter had a greater impact on me that I thought. The things that she showed me and told me about showed me that I had not developed creatively and socially that much over the last few months of social distancing. Intrigued by her different view of the world, I realised that I have been living in the tunnel of my own thoughts since social distancing started. The social stimuli that usually impact my thinking on life had largely disappeared without my even realising it.
This encounter demonstrates one of the major complexities of social distancing: the lack of meeting new people. People are social creatures. They look at other people and take on some of their characteristics and thoughts. By meeting interesting people and listening to their stories, we widen our horizons. Meeting people forces us to constantly reconsider our own ideas.
‘I can’t go to the Faculty, the student association is virtually closed’
The absence of new stimuli – both positive and negative – that often come from meeting people, is creating a one-sided view of reality. This could lead to polarisation and distrust. In a time in which we are heavily dependent on each other, where listening to another point of view is more important than ever, this is becoming a larger threat to our society.
I am at the beginning of my student life. That this period is not exactly what it should be, I have learned to accept. But that it is affecting my social development to such a degree that an unexpected encounter can have me thinking for days, is worrying. I can’t go to the Faculty, the student association is virtually closed and entertainment and night-life are non-existent. So I can just forget about meeting new people in these places. It’s bad enough that this supposedly ‘best time of my life’ is not that, but how can I make sure that my social development will not be patchy? I’m not the only struggling with this, not by far. All my peers are in the same situation.
At the last press conference, Prime Minister Rutte stated that mental health was always a factor in designing new corona restrictions. In practice, this is not the case. The economy, the pressure on healthcare and the health status of the people are more important in policy making at the moment. And rightly so. The direct impact of corona on these is causing the largest problems in society.
But does it mean that we only start worrying about mental health and personal development when it’s too late? Shouldn’t we try to avoid these types of long term impact instead of trying to deal with them after the fact? The current restrictions are in everyone’s interest, but we will shoot ourselves in the foot if we close our eyes to the less direct, but nevertheless real, impact of this crisis on us. A more proactive approach by the Government and relevant institutions such as schools and universities is essential for the well-being of society. They could start by trying to identify the problems.
Kaj Geheniau is studying Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft and Business Administration at Erasmus University. He lives with four housemates in a student house in Delft. He rows competitively at D.S.R.V. Laga in his free time.