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March 27th, 2020
Solitary confinement is our most severe form of incarceration. We lock people in a room all alone. This is apparently worse than being amongst the other people who are also in prison. And yet, some people, love solitude.
The French philosopher Pascal once wrote that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” There’s certainly a good deal of obvious truth to this statement, but what about the other side of it? What’s going on with the people who covet and adore their solitude? Do these people have something figured out?
Perhaps, but if a person seeks solitude as voraciously as another eschews it, then there is likely something equally amiss.
Those who do everything in their power to keep from being alone are clearly avoiding that experience of being left alone with their thoughts. We must ask: is the person seeking solitude avoiding something similar?
If the entire world suddenly fell under the spell of Pascal’s wisdom and suddenly sought to spend more and more of their time alone with their own thoughts, it would have huge repercussions. As a species we are successful, indeed, we are the strangest, most innovative and interesting thing to pop up on this planet because of our ability to cooperate.
Cheetah’s can’t be said to get much done, as they only spend a couple days in company during the whole year. While we might celebrate the animal as a prime example of solitude, we certainly can’t count on such an animal to get much done in a group activity.
If the extrovert – for lack of a better word, is avoiding their own thoughts with gregariousness, then perhaps the introvert is –in part – avoiding the thoughts of others with solitude.
We are told not to care about the opinions of others, but when it comes to group settings and collaboration, being able to have a finely tuned idea of what other people are thinking is key. Our wise adage is at odds with the practice of our progress. The one who seeks solitude may in fact suffer from the exact inverse of the problem that Pascal points at. The introvert – in many instances – is likely to be so sensitive to the workings of someone else’s thoughts, or merely even an idea of it, that their usual manner of thought is completely snuffed out. This is dark side of solitude. While time alone is replete with benefits that should be explored, it can be a crutch, one used to avoid the balance missing from social situations.
Giving up control can be a relief or a terror depending on the person. The extrovert who gives up their attention to the group gives up control for some relief here. Whereas the introvert can suffer from such an admission.
Health, once again resides in a paradox. Just as we can’t live in the moment at the expense of the future, nor do the opposite by constantly planning for the future while missing the present, we must do both. The paradox for the lover of solitude is to develop both the ability to maintain solitude in the company of others while being open to relinquishing attention to the minds of others. This isn’t so much like balancing on a tightrope as it is trying to light an ice cube on fire. It is a paradox, and both sides of the equation cannot each take half of the spotlight. Health is a transmission of adaptation, full of gears that all must be kept well oiled so that when the moment arises, we can fall into the right one and be at peace with our circumstances.