anthropology · behavior · community · creativity · culture · happiness · mental health · Social

Social Cohesion in a time of Physical Distance


This is an odd time for the world. For the first time in a century we are faced with a novel virus that we don’t yet know all that is involved with keeping it at bay and keeping ourselves safe. Many nations are asking or demanding their citizens maintain “social distance” and/or quarantine themselves in their homes.

A friend pointed out an important distinction – we should be calling this “physical distance” not social distance, as this is a time when we need social cohesion and support more than ever.

And what a glorious age that we live in that we can still do this?

My kids can still call grandma on video calls, even though she is 1000’s of miles away. I can write an email or send pictures to my friends in a nanosecond.

I live in King County, one of the epicenters of the outbreak in the US, and immediately after schools closed parents created a Facebook group dedicated to supporting each other, sharing online resources for videos, workbooks, and fun online activities for kids to do while they were out of school. I’ll post a few of my favorites below.

Music and science groups also started offering their materials live, including free concerts and events. Authors have started offering “virtual” book signings and draw-alongs for kids and adults alike.

There are numerous organizations offering free resources – classes, books, videos – and even free Live events that will encourage our Netflix-enabled on-demand culture to schedule some time to tune in and all watch the same experience at the same time. The magic of the early Television age will be renewed as we will all be able to experience a concert together in real time, granted on channels like Facebook Live and Instagram, Zoom, and other channels.

Italy is demonstrating this social cohesion better than any nation currently. They have had impromptu sing-alongs, flash mob concerts, and just plain rebellious screaming from the balconies of their apartments in Naples, Rome, Sicily, and Florence.



We do not need to feel alone or isolated.

We can create solidarity among our neighbors with symbols, music, and messages.

My kids and I are going to spend the afternoon creating art and then decorating our front yard with art, just to remind everyone we are here, we are alive and well, and we are a community.


There are NUMEROUS opportunities for online learning, these are primarily Resources for online book readings, live events, and other free media that help support social cohesion and reducing feelings of isolation (although if you need those resources, here are just a few):

If you have others please share them and I will post them!



behavior · community · culture · happiness · Social

At Google, groups are key to the company’s culture – San Jose Mercury News

Google Appliance as shown at RSA Expo 2008 in ...
Being part of a social group at work provides a pillar of support. Image via Wikipedia

Company culture seems to be this ethereal idea that no one can really wrap their head around, but “they know it when they see it.” They also know that employees having a strong connection with peers at work and a social buy-in to their employer promotes loyalty, worker productivity, and less absenteeism. This is an interesting profile of one aspect of Google’s work culture and community – creating mini support groups and internal communities.

Groups have always been an integral aspect of life at Google, but as the company approaches 30,000 employees, they have become an ever more critical mooring for new and veteran employees at a company trying to assimilate “Nooglers” at a pace of more than 100 a week. Many valley companies have groups for employee minority or cultural groups, but Google goes further, actively encouraging, and sometimes evenAdvertisementproviding financial support, for employees to organize special-interest groups ranging from economic theory to photography.

Google has 19 “Employee Resource Groups” or ERGs, employee-initiated entities that receive
financial support from the company and represent social, cultural or
minority groups…

more via At Google, groups are key to the company’s culture – San Jose Mercury News.

The article goes on to point out, and this should be a no brainer, that having a healthy, enriching work environment is also crucial to overall individual wellness and work fulfillment. Many companies are afraid to let their teams “goof off.” Maybe they should consider it “Googling off.”

anthropology · behavior · community · culture · environment · health · mental health · Social

Elderly community centers at risk


elderly communities
From NYT: Ms. Bosco, 95, spends much of her time at Seaside with Delores Brown, 73.

This New York Times article about budget cuts in New York State affecting senior community centers struck a nerve with me. In a good way. I am a strong advocate for promoting quality of life even into old age, especially into old age, and I think we youngsters forget just how important these community spaces can be for old folks.


In these places seniors can get a cheap meal, planned activities like games or fitness classes (we’re talking more Tai Chi than Tai Bo) but also companionship, and opportunities to do new things and learn. They also get experiences they never would have gotten to do otherwise; they realize they love to dance, or simply fall in love again.

However, with states and cities as cash strapped as they are, these places are in jeopardy of closing.

Last year, [New York] state and city budget cuts threatened 75 of the centers… and 29 were ultimately closed. The centers are intended to serve New Yorkers over age 60. This January, the dance began again: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed redirecting $25 million from the centers to child welfare; that, said the city’s Department for the Aging, would mean closing about a third of its centers; on March 15, the centers got a reprieve, with the Assembly and the State Senate voting to restore the money.

In a country where we are already isolating generations away from each other, it seems all the more important to at least offer a place for this demographic of people to meet and have some kind of community.

My grandparents belonged to a retirement home that practically forced them to go out and socialize with each other, be involved in community efforts, and participate in outreach to youth. I was thrilled to see new activities and challenges thrust upon my grandparents; learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities at 80 plus was revitalizing for them. However, that retirement home also ate up a lot of money, money that most folks don’t have, and soon-to-be-old folks are in worse shape as far as savings go due to the economy.

Some people may argue that it’s not worth investing in a demographic that isn’t giving back to our society. Besides the argument that they already GAVE to our society for 50 or more years, I’d argue that many of them could give back if we gave them the opportunity. There are lots of volunteer and time-bank programs where retired folks can donate their skills, from fixing leaky faucets to knitting to mentoring.

One of the programs my grandfather was in was a mentor for “troubled kids” as he’d call them who were bussed into the retirement home every other week or so to sit for an hour to talk to an old person. It was community service that a lot of them probably didn’t like the idea of at first, and to their friends they probably didn’t get all that excited about it. But when you actually saw the kids interact with the older folks, these kids opened up and really enjoyed their time with him. This was the first time in a long time that a lot of these kids got to say what was on their minds, and were really listened to. My grandfather also just happened to be a guidance counselor for many, many years, so for him this was also a treat to brush up on his old guidance counseling skills and feel like he was helping kids along the path “to the straight and narrow.” But even without that training, the older mentors felt like they were contributing to society, and so did the kids, as well as both getting something in return.

So before we look to cutting budgets on senior community centers, I argue we should look at these as possible hubs for other community activities, or community focal points. Just like lots of groups rent out the church basement for meetings or choir rehearsals, city planners should be looking at these spaces as community centers, not just senior centers. These centers offer a chance for a human being, of any age, to feel like a party of a community again, to feel human.