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Too Much Loneliness, Too Little Solitude
Choi Ju-hye  |  graceface.choi@gmail.com
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승인 2013.11.18  02:00:48
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PEOPLE ALWAYS chat together. They always eat meals together, take classes together, and drink together, and hang around together — all of which are seemingly benign acts. Yet the key word here is always , which denotes a constant invariability of a state (regardless of time and space) and gives an unexpected, dark twist to the situation. These days, it is not common to find someone who enjoys being alone — whether in a classroom, cafeteria, or dormitory rooms, individuals prefer to remain amidst groups of people, to mingle and interact with others rather than separating themselves from the crowd. Although such seemingly fond attachment towards people appears harmless and even benevolent at first glance, it can result in refiguring individual subjectivity and identity. As people incessantly rely on their social connections not only for the sake of entertainment and companionship but also as a mode of existence, their capacities for solitude gradually decrease to the extent that their sense of self becomes fragile and perhaps even disintegrates altogether. It is important to note the subtle yet distinct difference between loneliness and solitude. According to Paul Tillich, a German-American philosopher, the former involves distress and agony of isolation while the latter refers to the glory of being alone. Solitude is where one’s true self dwells, waiting to be discovered — it is amidst this warm, protective penetralia that individuals come to separate themselves from everything else, reflect upon and define their identities. Loneliness, on the other hand, serves to emphasize the desperate, vacant feeling that individuals experience, often entailing sadness and despondency. Nevertheless, the constant connectivity that people impose upon themselves limits their capacities for self-reflection and consequently blurs the boundary between loneliness and solitude; the glory of being alone is desecrated as it is erroneously associated with pain, stress, and other sufferings that accompany loneliness. It makes being alone seem burdensome and even problematic, to which individuals respond by incessantly connecting themselves with others. They roam even further into their social spaces in desperate search for interactions, which they believe will drive away the feeling of seclusion and satisfy their social needs. However, social interactions can only fill up the emotional vacuum to a certain, usually superficial, degree because such obsessive impulse to connect is not a solution. Rather, it is a symptom, a warning that discloses the weakening of one’s essence according to Sherry Turkles, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a clinical psychologist. Herein lies the problem though; too much social interactions that occurs without a firm basis renders an illusory sense of self — that is, by being with others, an individual is likely to be distracted by perpetual external presences that lead to the increased risk of having an incorrect perception of self. In another aspect, Victor Jeleniwski Seidler, a professor at the University of London, claims that the absolute avoidance of solitude also results in an unclear, even misleading understanding about individual identity. There is a subtle yet distinct difference between not recognizing the weakening of one's self and not d i s t i n g u i s h i n g t h e essential nature of oneself. Constant contact with other people can bring confusion and interference in finding out who exactly an individual is at the core. This, in turn, works to render all the societal interactions less effective, as it is only with an accurate, sound perception of true identity that individuals can form deep relationships. We often encounter individuals who, as a result of being constantly surrounded by the presence of others, cannot make decisions on their own because they do not know exactly what it is that they want. From petty things such as choosing what to eat at a new restaurant to more significant decisions such as which companies to apply to are often largely affected and perhaps even determined by the decisions made by the people around them. This not only signifies a subconscious loss of control over one's life but also alludes to the vicious cycle of debilitating self, deepening pool of loneliness, and fanatical connectivity that continues, feeding upon the void that is created. What people think is beneficial can render itself as fatal if there is too much of it. As the Korean proverb wisely declares, "Excess is worse than lack thereof," perhaps it is time to consider taking some time off from incessant connectivity and dwell in silent peace, wandering around in search for the hidden self.
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