When it comes to trust, we tend to start small. We begin with a smile, work our way up to a handshake, progress to a nudge and for those with whom we are truly intimate, we share a hug or a kiss. Even a dog expects to get to know you a bit first, smell your hand maybe and get a good look at you, before she’s ready to offer you her paw. We are no different really.
According to recent polling, consumer confidence in relaxing social distancing rules is largely dependent on how much control we maintain over our environment. With basic precautions such as keeping a distance of six feet, wearing a mask and frequent hand-washing, most of us feel relatively comfortable with a variety of public experiences including going to the ATM, taking a walk in a park, or getting groceries delivered. But as human density increases, and our control over our personal space decreases, so does our comfort level.
Socialization, even in normal times, begins with a small group of trusted individuals and expands outward, because trust is the currency in which we trade; trust in our institutions, communities, associates, neighbors and friends. We might be happy to lay in a hammock with our significant other, sit on the other end of a bench with a friend, or speak to the mailman from the other side of our fence, but we have spacial requirements that are related to our level of trust. The less intimate we are, the greater the social distance we need to feel comfortable.
This will be the driving force behind restarting our economy and coaxing people out of their homes. Developing, encouraging and reinforcing a measure of trust that influences our behavior. We need to know that the shops, restaurants, hotels and venues we choose to visit are looking out for us and protecting our well-being. How they treat their employees, for instance, will tell us a lot about how much they value our own safety. In short, we will trust those who prove themselves to be trustworthy.
So as we begin to come out of our homes, much like a town of Munchkins after the storm, we will need to move slowly, and be coaxed along to feel safe and not rushed. We will begin small, with a tight group of trusted friends, maybe in a backyard or an open porch, and as our trust grows, our need to isolate ourselves will diminish.
Then someday soon perhaps, when a stranger offers us their paw, we will take it in hand and give it a good shake.