One Unintended Side Effect of Isolation

It’s far too soon for anyone to write the book on the social and psychological impact the last two years have had on society. But surely there will be one. Check that – surely there will be many. Much ink will be spilled on how quarantines and the accompanying isolation have changed us. But maybe you don’t need the book. Maybe you can already tell at least some of the ways it has changed you.

For most of us, the last two years have represented more time in isolation than we have ever spent before in our lives. Perhaps even from a cumulative aspect – that the isolation of the last two years has been more than all the previous years of our lives combined. Of course, that’s bound to create impact.

Now to be fair, not all of that impact is bad. By God’s grace, maybe some of that impact on you has been positive. Perhaps you’ve rediscovered relationships with your family that have been muted because of activities and schedule. Maybe you’ve uncovered a long dormant hobby or interest with the new bandwidth. Maybe it’s as simple as greater productivity due to less time in a commute. So, yes, there are certainly positive things that can come from that time of isolation.

And then there are the obvious negative aspects of that isolation. In a culture in which we were already tending toward substituting surface level connections with deep intimacy, the gas pedal got pushed and we moved even further down the road. People are, in general, more lonely now than they were two years ago, and they are also less well known and connected with others than they were two years ago. But here is one more side effect of isolation which seems counterintuitive when you think about it:

Selfishness.

But how can that be? You would think that with all this isolation, we would be longing to get back together with people. We would be zealous for meeting with others. We would be waiting in the wings for all restrictions and hesitations to be gone so that we can host anyone and everyone in our homes. But for many of us, it doesn’t feel like that. Instead, we have become accustomed to being able to gear our whole lives around… us.

See, when you are with other people in a daily rhythm, you are forced to bend your own preferences to them. There are constant interruptions to your schedule, priorities, and time. But this period of isolation has given us greater control. We no longer have to bend our wills to others, to accommodate the needs and desires of anyone else. Now, there’s just… us, and our selfishness has been rekindled to new levels.

Now, in a time when we ought to want all the personal connections we can have, everything feels like an intrusion.

Selfishness is the unintended consequence of isolation. If left to ourselves, we will always drift toward our own self-interest. We will always focus on our time. Our list. Our priorities. And with the absence of natural interruptions of those things, the drift comes faster and goes further.

But recognizing this reality also presents us with an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to recognize this tendency inside of us, and to do battle against our own selfishness. How do we do that?

Well, it’s pretty simple – we embrace these opportunities of interruption. We accept the invitation for lunch. When someone sends a text or email, we ask if we can meet for coffee instead of just responding in kind. We start taking those patterns of isolation that have been built into us over the last two years and invite someone into them with us. We start to interrupt ourselves because others aren’t interrupting us any more. We recognize that not only do we benefit from being with other people, but that the very act of being with other people helps make us more like Jesus because it fights against our selfishness.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4).

This is the way of Jesus who was not only constantly interrupted, but constantly put himself in a position to be interrupted. Let us do the same.

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