Physical Distancing: Social Distancing Rebranded

Let’s rebrand Social Distancing to Physical Distancing. Because language is important and the nuance of meaning makes a world of difference in how it affect attitudes and behaviours.

This is by no means an original idea, but it’s one I wholeheartedly agree with.

My Experience

I went grocery shopping last week with my dad, he’s a postie (Aussie slang for mailman) and was wearing his uniform with a face mask on whilst at my local Supermarket .

As I was putting my groceries onto the convey belt for checkout my dad wandered a little too close this to this middle aged white lady who gave him a look of disdain and said in our general direction “Social, distancing.“.

No “excuse me”, no “hello”, no “thank you”. Just plain rudeness and lack of respect.

I heard of people having negative experiences, but when it came to receiving it first hand I was dumbfounded, and just pretended to ignore what just happened. In that moment my faith in humanity became just a little more shakey.

A little while afterwards I was annoyed at myself for not saying anything and standing up.

My Learning

Do not allow the “current situation” to be the weak excuse that enables antisocial behaviour.

Physical distancing does not absolve the expectation of people to be respectful, and decent humans. The use of the word social may allow people to give themselves permission to see others more like an adversary for a finite resources, as opposed a teammate in the community looking out for each who may make a mistake or two along the way.

In order to encourage the right behaviour you can not reciprocate the rudeness and negative behaviour. It needs to be done in a way that makes it very clear that it is not acceptable, but in a manner which suggests an alternative and/or allows the offending person to realise their misjudgement. Show compassion and take the high ground.

Here are some alternative things I should have said instead of staying silent:

Apologies for coming too close physically, but I would appreciate if you could say that in a more respectful way.

Would you have said that in the same way to the manager of this store? I understand the need for a physical distance, but you could have been a little more friendly about it.


Don’t be a douche canoe just because we have to physically stay away from each other.

Language matters. Be kind to our fellow Earthlings. We are all on the same team, trying to get through these tough times together.