6 degrees of separation refers to the idea that between individuals, there are six social connections or less. That if you pick any two random people on earth, they are separated by six social connections or less. Also called the ‘Six Handshakes rule’, the idea was originally propounded by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, and popularized by American playwright John Guare. There have been lots of research to explore and (dis)prove this theory, and the related ‘Three degrees of influence’…
COVID-19 had me reflecting on six degrees of separation over the weekend; about how more than with any other disease, the actions of others have direct consequences on our health. This is a theme that has often come up in family discussions and with friends – the fact that you can do everything right and still be infected. The fact that a neighbor, friend or family member’s wrong choices can become a matter of life and death for you.
On social media, there is an abundance of stories told by COVID-19 patients and survivors, saying that they don’t know how they contracted the virus. Many people describe voluntarily practicing social distancing and work from home routines before they were mandated by the government. To paraphrase one twitter user, “I must have picked it from a common space in my building, like the stairwell, where someone left their germs behind.” The nature of the virus demands accountability of us ALL, both for ourselves and those around us.
In this period where governments have displayed extreme recklessness, especially in Nigeria, and at both federal and state levels, I often find myself talking to people in public places like banks and markets about correct use of PPE (especially people wearing gloves!). Sometimes, I ask myself whether it is worth it, or whether it is my business, but the truth is that the only way we survive this thing is together. This might mean doing things that make us uncomfortable – calling out behavior that endangers all of us in both friend and stranger alike.
Like most people, I watched in horror the cringe-worthy affair that was the burial ceremony of Nigeria’s Chief of Staff who died on Friday, having had COVID-19 for a couple of weeks. With at least a hundred people in attendance, government officials took center stage in flouting all the directives regarding social distancing and correct use of PPE and face masks.
It got me thinking:
What would you do differently if you knew for certain that you’re only six handshakes separated from corona virus infection?
Would you walk away every time? Would you take more interest in what your neighbors, and even the stranger on the street is doing?
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