Social Distancing – It’s What We Do

This entry is part 47 of 51 in the series Field Notes

As I contemplated the topic for this article, my thoughts could never completely detach from the world we now find ourselves. Despite my desire to write something unrelated, hopefully with some humor, I couldn’t seem to get there. I would venture to say that there is nobody who reads Field Notes who has not been impacted; some to a much greater degree than others. Hopefully none to the ultimate degree.

As the concept of social distancing started to emerge several weeks ago, we all likely wondered what that meant? Then we were in meetings where handshakes were replaced by elbow bumps, then head nods. We noticed taped “X” marks on the floor at stores indicating where we were to stand in line to maintain the proper social distance. The size of allowed group gatherings dwindled from 2,500 to 100, to less than 10.

Slowly, but steadily, the announcement of cancellations and postponements began. Concerts, local sporting events, and school functions. Even March Madness. We, or at least I, knew it was serious when the “Happiest Place on Earth” closed. Now, the summer Olympics have been postponed until next year.

Closer to home, it became almost impossible to find the staples of life, especially toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Things started to feel very real. This wasn’t just in China and Europe anymore. Schools started closing. Business started changing how they operated or closed down entirely. The stock market crashed, crushing retirement plans. And the layoffs started. Massive layoffs.

Okay, enough of the dire tone.

Back to social distancing. Surveyors are masters of this skill by default, especially boundary and control surveyors. We always have worked in small groups, yet often with much distance between us. Today, we even work alone with our robot or GPS receiver.

We never have groups crawling through the brush with us or hiking to mountain tops just to watch us work. Occasionally, we will have a curious neighbor follow us around, or even a client, but they rarely get too close. We like it that way.

Years ago, I was involved in some civil litigation and one of my witnesses was a seasoned elderly surveyor who had spent much of his career doing boundary work for the federal government. While on the stand, the opposing attorney was trying to discredit his testimony by inferring that he remembered so many details of the situation that he must have been briefed by our side as to know what to say.

At one point, the opposing attorney asked him if he remembered these types of details for all of his surveys, including the conversations with the people he encountered. His answer was golden.

“Well,” he said. “I remember many details of the surveys I have performed, but I rarely have conversations with people while doing them. Most of my surveys are deep in the forest. I occasionally ‘talk’ to the trees in the area where a corner should be to see if they can tell me where to look.”

The attorney had no idea what to do with that and essentially called him crazy. The presiding judge took strong issue with that tactic and reprimanded the attorney for badgering the witness. The attorney had accomplished the opposite of his objective – he gave the witness supreme credibility in the eyes of the judge. We won!

As these trying times continue, my hope is that many lasting positive changes will result. Changes in what we appreciate, what we don’t take for granted, in how we spend our free time. Changes in how businesses operate, including allowing more telecommuting for staff members who perform work that allows it. Less traffic on the roads. Less stress. And more consistently stocked toilet paper in the garage.

Stay strong everyone and be the leaders in social distancing like we always have been.

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