In the blistering crowds of urban life, it can be easy to lose yourself in the routine of life. Surrounded by strangers and being in a bustling environment lends little respite. With the earliest everyday routines starting by squeezing into crowded public transportation and the constant company of other busy people, the last thing any person wants is the presence of others.
Taking time for yourself isn’t a topic taught in schools or given in business lectures, but it is a life skill as important as managing finances or being self-sufficient. In a world of social saturation where the flooding of online personality complements the offline obligations of classes, work, and one’s peers, the sheer amount of socialization required is immense. In the absence of people, one’s social self sleeps, able to digest the things perceived while it is awake and recharge for the inevitable interaction, whether that be through a screen, across a seat, or in a lecture.
Things until yesterday
Historically, social isolation has usually had a negative connotation, stigmatizing the “loners” and exiles who crave or are subjected to it. Drunk on anarchy and lawlessness, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies tells the tale of boy scouts succumbing to bloodlust and greed while stranded on an island. Immortalized in the writings of old books, isolation presents itself poorly for the mentally ill—their emotional and social condition worsening as they rot away in a cell. Too much space from the world and too little human contact makes itself known as one of the most silent dangers to any sane human being. Humans are social creatures, eager to label anyone less social as something other.
There are, however, exceptions such as hermits and religious entities like Gautama Buddha who replace the stigma of isolation with the positive qualities of a dedication whether that be to religion, scholarship, or any other activity socially-sanctioned as positive.
We see how different the world of social interaction is nowadays. Whether facing a vivacious campus life, speed-dating on Tinder, or the black mirror of social media, it is an understatement to say that we do not lack social connection—the depth or intensity is another thing entirely.
A world of one’s own
Isolation can be a mixed bag—a behavior with a diverse set of causes and outcomes. Over the course of modernity, one rising factor is the industrialization of society, the fitting of large, impersonal networks of people into single cities with amazing density, strangers living and working within a stone’s throw of one another. The pressures of society, work, academics, friends, and family can lead to people becoming reclusive. In Japan, a highly industrialized society, the immense social pressure there has led to the rise of hikikomori, dubbed modern-day hermits who withdraw from society. In their isolation, they usually spend most of their days at home and have little social contact, to the detriment of their interpersonal relationships.
The hikikomori are an extreme example of a more common behavior, with similar behaviors spreading across the US, South Korea, and other developed nations. However, as extreme as this behavior may be, taken within a healthy range and balancing other parts of one’s social life, social isolation may help provide an escape from the trappings of modern life—a place for introspection and a time to reflect.
The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb
It’s easy to feel alone in a world where credentials are privileged over personal needs, where the pace of modernity fits everything into spreadsheets and schedules.
The cry of “students are not machines” may be cliché, but in that cry for a more manageable workload is a kernel of truth not to be ignored. Workloads, both academic and social, can feel crushing if unregulated, fatiguing a person’s mental health. This is a misery that could be avoided.
The dreaded words “I need space” and “I don’t want to see you right now” ring true to those who experienced a negative shift in their relationships. Such as how a knot unravels, a tightly knit companionship could break apart the further you tug on the string. This isolation could be a point of no return, but is creating distance an irreversible process? Strings can always be tied again, and weaving in the thread would make it whole. Isolation could be the catalyst in the remedy of decaying relationships.
Looking at families, friends, spouses, and significant others not as a unified form, but as a collection of individuals may put each person into perspective. One’s needs do not necessarily transcend to another’s. It is this unique individuality each person has that prevents people from forcing their ideas on another. Isolation can create distance, but it can also close the gap between two people. It would allow one to think as an individual, rather than a collective idea gathered from others.
As much as how being with someone could expand their understanding of each other, isolation can allow one to be the third person viewing the situation without bias. “I need space” does not mean isolation through avoidance, but a step back to account for one’s personal needs.