4 Ways to Get Closer from Far Away

how to hug someone through the internetHere we are facing a global pandemic–and mostly alone. 

In my two weeks of social distancing, I found myself feeling disconnected. Technically able, yet somehow socially unable, to find the warmth of community. Now even a “hi” wave to acquaintances from an appropriate social distance is a small but fulfilling interaction that I long for. 

As much as I treasure meme humor and the political and economic news of the moment, I want to bring back the laughter of shared memories, the depth of intellectual conversation, the delicacy of vulnerable revelations, and mutual connection over mutual emotions that was an everyday part of my Duke experience. So, I ask myself: how can we have a community when we are apart? 

I look to the restorative community building framework for answers. Restorative practices invite empathy, active listening, and sharing lived experiences. It helps groups and individuals to organically move past shallow conversation and towards authentic and meaningful connections. 

So, here are the guidelines that help me the most to create community with virtual meet-ups:   

  1. Commit to Listening – You can’t look people in the eye over video chat to convey that you care and are listening. And insta is just a click away and no one can really tell – can they? By giving your full attention and demonstrating that by nodding and expressing care through your facial expressions, you can make sure that your friends feel heard. 
  2. Mind the interruptions – Talking online makes it hard to judge who is going to talk next. And people who are eager to speak might jump into a sentence only halfway complete. By being aware of interruptions, you can listen to understand, not to speak. Maybe ask everyone to respond to one question in turn. And speaking of questions…   
  3. Ask specific but open-ended questions – This approach invites deeper conversation, instead of staying at the surface. (Friend: “What did you do today?” Me: “… the same five things I told you I did yesterday.”) Instead ask, “How are you really?” “What made you laugh this week?” “What’s been hardest about being home again?” ‘What do you miss most?”
  4. Start with “I” – Starting with your experience prevents invalidating how someone else might be feeling and invites others to share. Blanket statements such as  “social distancing is so depressing” creates a claim that speaks for everyone, but “I feel sad and disconnected while social distancing” allows for your friend to acknowledge and validate your experience and continue the conversation. 

I hope these ideas help you get back to late night giggles, deeper conversations and emotional support that bring you closer to friends when everyone and everything seems far away.  

Arya is a Sophomore from Charlotte, North Carolina studying Public Policy and Economics. She has participated in various Kenan programs including the Focus Program, the Kenan Refugee Project and Project Change. She is particularly interested in Restorative Justice because of the power it has to strengthen communities and its humanistic approach.

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