Nov 29, 2023
Nov 29, 2023
“If you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” —Jodi Picoult
Why is there this disappointment, this disconnect? Philosopher Kieran Setiya characterizes loneliness as the ‘pain of social disconnection’. We can feel lonely in a crowd of strangers but also in a roomful of people who care for us and love us. It happens when others fail to recognise and affirm our core values, our inner being. Close friends and family in particular, come from a place of conditioned responses that does not take into account the fact that we may have transformed, gradually over the years or on account of an experience that has made an internal impact in our lives. Such changes if noticed, are dismissed as social idiosyncrasies; those close to us cling to an ‘idea’ of us and so the ‘new’ us that confronts them is not affirmed, not recognised. There’s a sense of not belonging to the very circle you are an integral part of.
Loneliness can be deadlier than many diseases of the body. Those are diagnosed, treated and can be dealt with. But often when a sense of isolation or rejection shrouds a person’s self-worth, she withdraws into herself, causing further damage. This upsets one’s ability to function normally. William Patrick and John Cacioppo warn us: “social isolation has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking.”
We too could be guilty of isolating others with a judgemental attitude; our refusal to accept and understand them in their present context, would accentuate their feelings of loneliness, making them more prominent and agonising. Perhaps, even forcing those close to us into arbitrary seclusion or pushing them into seeking recognition, affirmation, a social connection outside of their personal and intimate spheres. We need to be more sensitive to and affirmative of positive shifts, for good, in others’ perspectives and attitudes.
Not everyone wants recognition or social approval. Some of us seek a release from intellectual isolation. We live in our minds; there are ideas we have been exposed to, new worlds, feelings we have awakened to that we want to discuss or talk about; but it becomes difficult when we begin to sound like strangers or a bit quirky to our family and friends of years. If they just didn’t understand it would be okay; they continue to reinforce their engraved beliefs about our old selves.
This is not about the great men who are at home in the lofty heights of their solitude. Solitude is different from loneliness. Solitude defines the merits of being alone whereas loneliness defines the pain of feeling alone. Loneliness is the sting of being surrounded by people from whom you feel cut off. Being alone is again another story. It is choosing to be by yourself, despite your emotional state or social relations.
Perhaps as Leo Babauta says we are connected in our feelings of aloneness; but as individuals and as a society we grow or go down dependent on the way we manage our social bonds. We all need to be connected 1) With self; 2) with those around us and 3) with the world at large – animate and inanimate, which means with mother earth.