When some people hear about where I live, I’m always a little surprised at the comments they make about my living in an isolated fashion. Their underlying belief is clear: isolation is unhealthy.
Human beings are social animals, and most every great thing we have produced resulted from collaboration. One person cannot save the world, no matter how much we like the hero archetype. It is undeniable that social interaction lies at the core of who we are as a species.
We are hard-wired to crave company.
But why all the concern? Why do some people view isolation as indicative of someone stumbling towards peril? Maybe they are worried about someone they care for, or maybe they have experienced the loss of a person who exhibited this behavior. After all, people are adept at generalizing and projecting their personal experiences onto the behaviors of others. But, I think people’s primary concern about someone being alone is that they themselves feel lonely when they are away from others.
With our craving for social interaction comes an inherent fear of being alone. Mother Nature understood that humans had the best chance for survival if they worked as a group, so evolution made quick work of instilling within us an affinity toward group behavior and an aversion to being alone. In modern times, although we still rely heavily on the goods and services others provide, our survival requires much less personal contact with others. Modern humans also value independence and self-sufficiency, something that was more of a luxury in times past. Individuals also experience an interesting phenomenon of enmeshment where they closely tie their identity to a group, making them feel like they lose their personal identity when alone. With these strong internal programs that keep us social, it’s no wonder that we avoid a pursuit of solitude.
These modern challenges merit the question of whether all, or even most, social interaction is healthy. While some forms of separation from society are obviously a symptom of some greater issue, sometimes people are overly social because it helps them evade something negative they experience when they are alone.
For me, it is this running toward one thing in order to escape another…