This is a guest blog written by Robert Bowen, Lead Behavioral Consultant at Followership Solutions.
A few days ago one of our church members had a birthday, and a birthday parade of cars was organized that would drive by and maintain social distancing while at the same time celebrating her life and giving us the opportunity to gather together. It’s been almost a month since we last gathered together, and when we met up at a local park, people got out and started talking with each other, with every intention of staying 6 feet apart.
As I interacted and observed (because that’s what I do!) I noticed people slowly moving towards each other, passing the 6 foot barrier, as if they were drawn together by the force of gravity. Actually, what drives us to flock together, especially in times of stress, is our neurology. The “fight or flight” mechanism in our brains is actually a lot more complicated, and it is generally accepted now that there are four stages in our responses to stress, with the first one being, you guessed it, flock.
The Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges lays out the neurophysiology of our emotional responses, attachment processes, communication and the idea of self-regulation. What Porges calls the Social Engagement System is our first innate response to stress – we want to be with other people. Neuroscientists such as Bruce Perry include in their models a process of stress response that starts with flock, then goes to flight, fight, and freeze as the last response before stress overwhelms us.
In this time of Covid-19, we need to recognize that asking people to maintain social distance goes against the grain of our neurology. We are wired to want, perhaps even need, to be together in times of stress. So how can we work through this? Here are some ideas:
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