Some other species — cats, for instance — humans are social creatures. That means we naturally tend to form alliances to accomplish objectives we could never accomplish alone. It means we’re comforted by the presence of other humans. It also makes us subject to the feeling of loneliness.
Loneliness is that warning light that tells you to form or repair an alliance: make a friend, find a mate, kiss and make up, call your mother. It notifies you of the danger of isolation. You can feel loneliness when there’s no one around, but the pangs are especially acute when there are people nearby and, for some reason you’re failing to gel with them. That can happen when you’re feeling misunderstood, ignored, marginalized, exploited, or experiencing a betrayal. Loneliness is trying to tell you to pay attention to those alliances and make them working right, end them, or get better ones.
However, it must be noted that a human’s quest to avoid loneliness, and achieve communion, is a lot like a tree’s pursuit of the sun. It’s a drive that both assures growth towards others and guarantees unhappiness. For, just as a tree will never reach the sun, you will never achieve complete communion. We are all locked within an inescapable solitude of the self.
One day when I was in junior high, I thought that if I could mount a video camera inconspicuously on my head, I could record my whole day and play it that night for my parents. It wasn’t till later that I learned to value my privacy and would be horrified by the prospect of my parents knowing everything I did. At that moment I just wanted them to see what I saw so they could understand my world.
As it was, it took about a minute before I realized my parents would never understand. Even if they were to watch hours of my tape, they would never see things through my eyes; they could only see things through their own. I discovered that there’s only so much anyone else can do to bridge that gap. I discovered the inescapable solitude of the self.
No amount of wealth, fame, power or popularity can save you from the solitude of the self. You come into the world alone and, alone leave it. There has never been and there can never be anyone just like you, with the precise combination of prenatal influences and environment that made up your youth and adulthood. It doesn’t matter how well you explain yourself; people just aren’t going to fully get it. People can try to sympathize or empathize with you, but they’ll never feel or think exactly as you do. They can only understand how they would feel and think if they were you.
It makes no difference how many clicks you get, or friends you have, or re-tweets you can accumulate; when you get right down to it, you’re alone. Hunted or hounded, revered or reviled, reveled or rebuffed, a prisoner or the president, you’re alone. The rich man’s money will get him lots of women, but he’ll never know if they only want him for his money. The beautiful woman finds the men flock, but do they really care about her? None of those emails and tweets and Facebook friends can save you. Keep the TV on all day and you will still feel it. Even your spouse, who is pledged to love you for eternity, has no power over the solitude of the self.
That day I had the fantasy of the camera, and realized it wasn’t going to work, was the day I understood I had to learn to take care of myself, know, affirm, protect, cherish, be patient, and accept myself. I grew up that day. But I never felt so lonely.
Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that everyone was bound to feel this way. My parents, my teachers, my friends, and even the most popular kids in school were locked in the same inescapable solitude of the self I was. I missed what should have been an obvious solution.
What would have happened if, instead of rigging a camera on my head and having my parents watch a tape of my day, I rigged a camera to theirs, and saw what they saw? I would see my father at work, fixing cars, and never understand the degree he loved the smell of grease; how perplexed he got solving a dashboard electrical problem; or felt his fingers cramp as he turned a stubborn bolt. It would have been very interesting to see things from their perspective even if I would never have fully grasped their perspective. I would have felt closer to them without them crossing over to me.
This is the antidote for loneliness: not to draw others to you, so they understand your point of view; but to go to them, till you believe you understand theirs. Of course, because of the solitude of the self, you will never bridge that gap; but you’ll be heading in the right direction. Rather than waiting for others to come to you, go to them. When you are lonely, don’t seek to be consoled; console. Don’t demand to be understood; understand. Don’t look for love; love.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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