Loneliness and Our Connection to Others

A personal reflection on loneliness and balancing solitude and relationships.

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Cairns on Peaks Island
Peaks Island Cairns

There was this article posted in The Guardian that demonstrates the soul baring desperation that underlies loneliness, even in the midst of all the accoutrement of adulthood and family and work. It got me contemplating loneliness and considering my own relationship to it. Read the article, it’s good.

A warning: I’m about to spelunk into some serious naval-gazing.

I’ve lived for a number of years in relative solitude and had grown fairly accustomed to the sense of loneliness — to the point where I even fought internally against the concept of a long-term relationship and had to come to grips with the entirely wonderful idea that someone could be in my life unto marriage, that someone would be there every single day, loving me, forcing me to temper my long suffering loneliness into an entwinement that yes, would entail compromise and the sacrifice of idealistic, boyish visions of self-sufficiency.

Why had I so deeply resigned/consigned myself to perpetual loneliness? I think it was a manner of coping with who I was as a person. Even as a lad, I’ve always had “eclectic” tastes, meaning that I can be somewhat withdrawn, stubborn, and judgmental, and as I grew older, I refused to capitulate to the demeaning standard of bullshit that popular society deemed acceptable.

Given my personality, therefore, I had determined that I was destined for eternal loneliness, and thus sought for reconciliation with my natural state of being. Creative writingwithout a capitalistic purpose–had become an entrenched part of my existence (though my professional development has since necessitated some trimming of that sort of writing). An affection for mysticism has been part of this eclectic tendency. I like the philosophers of Zen, Sufiism, and holistic integralism of various Bohemian sorts. I fell in love with the passionate, drunken spirit-mind writing of Dostoevsky, Winterson, RumiDelillo, Pynchon, and whomever I happened to be reading at the moment. I found succor in running and hiking and reading and playing my djembe — activities that required no other to manifest enjoyment. I further discovered that going out to bars and clubs wasn’t about looking for sex or a soul-mate or any other person at all — it was about finding myself, and enjoying myself, and inviting others to come along for the ride.

Along this journey, from stubborn, eclectic individualism to marriage and a career, I’ve discovered that loneliness can be productive and beautiful, even as it dredges out a hollow in my heart. But I also rebel against the notion that artistic creativity is only produced from independent pursuits, and that things of beauty can only be created, Phoenix-like, out of despair. [Think of all of those poets of modernity, who killed themselves, seemingly out of creative consummation.] Rather, I think that what is created from the harmony and dissonance of relationships is simply different, and must be appreciated in it’s own context, apart and distinct from that which is a creation of loneliness. Times have changed, I believe, in the artistic sphere. Call it the Age of Aquarius or call it what you will, but there are too many talented and interesting individuals out there vying for attention for singular artists to dominate any one field in the manner Shakespeare, Picasso, and Davis once did. In some sense, the reality that has always been everpresent yet understated is becoming more definitive of our formal social reality: we are all artists, creating every single moment anew out of the materials of what has come before.

This freedom, this burden, of creative synthesis and production means that we all must become comfortable with the sense of loneliness and detachment from the hustle and bustle of everyday surface society. Otherwise, we will be unable to define ourselves, and we will become lost in the flotsam and jetsam of the concerns of others. Finding yourself necessitates two paradoxical movements:

  • stepping away from society and social media and other outlets* (self-knowledge and spiritual understanding)
  • stepping into society and social media and other outlets (knowledge of others and sharing)

*a definition: by social media and other outlets, I mean any mechanism by which we can connect to other people, whether Facebook, the pub, or speed dating

A balance must therefore be discovered, a balance that is difficult for us to achieve. A balance between being comfortable with loneliness, and being comfortable compromising with others in ongoing relationships. A comfort with solitude, and a comfort in being around others. A comfort with poetry, and a comfort with Twitter. A comfort with knowing ourselves, and a comfort in constantly redefining ourselves.

The hardest thing, perhaps, is to truly know yourself in a crowd of people who don’t know themselves. Or maybe the hardest thing is to truly know another person when you don’t really know yourself. Or maybe it’s all the same problem, and the solution lies right before us.

To Be Wed

Ring Ceremony

As of Saturday, I am forthwith a married man. My wife and I have been living together for 5 years, so married life will not be substantially different for us, but I admit that walking around with a ring on my finger does make me feel different. More confident, perhaps, more adult. (We’ll see just how long a feeling imbued by a material object lasts!)

I’ve always loved weddings, because they seem to be one of the few venues where people of all walks of life and ages can come together and celebrate. I am pleased to say that my own wedding was a beautiful celebration, and I am not saying that just because I’m biased. I’ve never seen my parents dance so hard. My nieces and nephews were running around and having a blast and being adorable. My wife and I have incredible friends and family, and they were the ones that made this experience so wonderful. If there’s only one thing I regret about my wedding, it was being unable to spend lots of time with each and every one of them there.

As we were planning the wedding and grimacing over the money spent and the inevitable stress of event planning, I began wishing that we’d just eloped and been done with it all. But now that the wedding has finally occurred, I can say honestly that it was all worth it, no matter how quickly it swept by. It was worth it because it served as a critical reminder of just how fortunate and blessed we are to have our family and friends. Without them, we would be unable to cherish and sustain our commitment to each other over the long haul.

Relationships aren’t magic — they require a lot of hard work, dedication, and compromise. We move into our marriage with full awareness of what real love requires, and with the models and sustenance of our parents and our families and our friends to look to for guidance.

We’ll be going to Kauai for our honeymoon next week. I know I’ve been delinquent in posting here since summer has began, but I think I’ve got a good excuse for it! ;) Keep your eyes peeled for more junk on public education later.

Dialogue: Love, Faith, & Humility

This is the section from Pedogogy of the Oppressed that really made me begin listening to what Freire was saying and step beyond his language of “revolution” and recognize it as fundamental insight into the very heart of effective pedagogy.

Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed–even in part–the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world. . .

Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection. . .

If it is in speaking their word that people, by naming the world, transform it, dialogue imposes itself as the way by which they achieve significance as human beings. Dialogue is thus an existential necessity. . . .

Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. . . Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and the dialogue itself. . . . Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause–the cause of liberation. . . If I do not love the world–if I do not love life–if I do not love people–I cannot enter into dialogue.

On the other hand, dialogue cannot exist without humility. . . Men and women who lack humility (or have lost it) cannot come to the people, cannot be their partners in naming the world. Someone who cannot acknowledge himself to be as mortal as everyone else still has a long way to go before he can reach the point of encounter. At the point of encounter there are neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages; there are only people who are attempting, together, to learn more than they now know.

Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not the privilege of an elite, but the birthright of all). . .

Founding itself upon love, humility, and faith, dialogue becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence. . . False love, false humility, and feeble faith in others cannot create trust. Trust is contigent on the evidence which one party provides the others of his true, concrete intentions; it cannot exist if that party’s words do not coincide with their actions.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed