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A Loss Of Social Skills Could Be Lingering Symptom Of Pandemic

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COVID-19 affects more than our respiratory systems — it has changed how we connect with each other.

Elbow and fist bumps have replaced handshakes and hugs. Meetings are on monitors in bedrooms, not in filled rooms down the office hall.

The frustrations of more than 18 months of tragedy, disrupted lives, and isolation have led to uncivil behavior everywhere from public meetings to airplanes.

“The divisiveness began before COVID,” said Rabbi Sanford Akselrad, “and then COVID kind of was like a crucible.

"One of the things that has made it worse now is that there is a complete ability to listen to the only news sources that you want.”

Akselrad, who heads Henderson’s Congregation Ner Tamid, said that while many retreated to their echo chambers, “people also are there for each other. I had a lot of congregants who did phone calls” checking up on other members of the synagogue.

Joy Lewis, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UNLV, said the remoteness of online learning can sometimes lead to flip behavior because people "have that comfortability behind the camera."

"You simply cannot do that in a classroom; you conduct yourself as a student, as a professional, she said.

Professor Sondra Cosgrove, who teaches history at the College of Southern Nevada, said the decline in public discourse long preceded the pandemic.

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"It's amplifying something that's been happening," said Cosgrove, who pointed her finger at the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, which loosened donation restrictions on corporations and other outside groups.

"There's been this flood of dark money, and so there's a lot of political consultants that make a ton of money teaching us to hate each other and to scream at each other  — and it's been building," she said.

Lewis said she tells her students that independent thinking is vital to sort through the flood of tweets, posts, links, and memes.

"We have this abundance of knowledge and information out there, and it's really up to is really on the individual and their interpretation," she said, adding that even if you "refrain from social media, you are still going to be hearing of the trends or conspiracies."

Rabbi Akselrad said that as bad as things are today, they could be worse.

"I'm going to remind you, what about the '60s. We had the Vietnam War in the '60s, and issues with feminism and racism and all that," he said. "So our society is always going through different cycles where we have been at odds with each other. 

"I think that is America, and then we hash it out, and then we grow from it. And then sometimes there's a regression."

Guests

Sanford Akselrad, rabbi, Congregation Ner Tamid; Sondra Cosgrove, history professor, College of Southern Nevada; Joy Lewis, doctoral candidate in sociology, UNLV

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