Monday, April 25, 2011

Loneliness and the Necessity of Friendship

Oh hum. Since my big move I've become much more aware of other areas of my being, and most prevalent seems to be my intense loneliness. I am entirely on my own in this state, everyone I used to associate with being in Michigan, and most significantly I've never met another Objectivist such as myself, only having spoken to one on the phone. This I think have been the source of my painful longing, so it's high time I put my lovability self-improvement skills to practice and actively nurture a social life.

Philosophically as of late, I've been contemplating the role of friendship in a human life, and have been pondering whether it's actually a basic requirement for happiness. Giving things a run through at different angles is making me realize that my previous resistance to this is due to my having accepted bad second-handed notions of the role of people in one's life, so I've made the mistaken as taking an incorrect and isolated view of some notion, treating it as the only/definitive one, and rejecting it on those grounds.

All of my youth I was taught that being alone is a bad thing and that having friends was a necessary "good" for some reason. These ideas were never explained in any deeper detail to me: It's just "bad" to be alone and "good" to have friends. I was bullied a lot as a kid and was constantly losing friends for some reason or another, so I grew up quite pained with my situationally enforced aloneness and resistance to friendship due to consistent losses, so I always hated the notion that being alone was bad because I was practically forced to be so. It wasn't until I discovered Objectivism and started building self-esteem that I became content and fine with being alone, while at the same time still being able to enjoy friendships. The difference is that I didn't panic about being alone from then on and didn't seek to be with people in order to escape this somehow bad state of being alone.

I realize now that, aside from the notion being empty to begin with, my elders were condemning physical aloneness; that is, being alone in body. Being emotionalists, they judged being alone to be morally bad because it makes them feel bad to be alone, so they're condemning on whim. The remedy they proposed was to haphazardly develop friendships in order to maintain physical contact with people, and they were so unsophisticated in their views that they encouraged me to maintain relations even with people whom I shared no interests with and was bored to death dealing with. As such, I've come to reject the notion that friendship is necessary since I've unthinkingly internalized my elders' false view.

Loneliness isn't about being alone in physical body; it's about being alone in spirit. People like to speak about the supposed paradox of feeling alone in a crowd of people, but there's no contradiction. The loneliness exists in the spiritual realm and can only be quelled by people spiritually similar to you. Dealing with people at random in order to physically be with someone will only serve to evade that matter, and once the people depart the pain will immediately return. First you need to know yourself, and then after having established that working knowledge you ought to seek people who appeal to your personal attributes.

Probably the thing I ache for the most is people whom I can be intellectually open with and discuss deep matters with without fear of them becoming hysterical. The ideal time in my youth I remember is those school lunches during which I was just beginning to discover Objectivism and would have deep philosophical discussions with my friends. Those conversations were immensely satisfying, and I felt such a intense pleasure being intellectually stimulated this way that my brain actually became physically pleasured. I don't thrive on total agreement within a group; in fact, it makes me uncomfortable since I want my positions challenged so I can move forward in my thought. I deeply respect people who can absolutely disagree with me and yet set down the matter as an adult and resume polite relations. Philosophy classes were also my favorite for this reason.

The friendship problems arose when I lost contact with these people. I still loved philosophical conversations like those, but soon my life became filled with people who can only tolerate conventional opinions, and the slightest deviations makes them fall apart and become undone. Since I don't meticulously pay attention to what are deemed to be popular and "accepted" ideas, I couldn't predict how these people would respond to my own thought-out stances. There have even been uncomfortable confrontations about whether it's reasonable to stick a sponge in the dish washer. This as a consequence is probably what has led to me becoming so reserved as I am today, where I tend to keep quiet about my opinions, as I was consistently in environments hostile to differing opinions. Recently I've become a little bit more open about my opinions, and have been reminded how refreshing it is to associate with people on such open terms.

While I'm certainly going to hone my views on ideal friendships as I go on, it might be most beneficial for me to seek out people comfortable with differing opinions, and where a better place to look than people who share my philosophy? Objectivism rejects whole-heartedly emotionalism -- using one's emotions as the means to knowledge and persuasion -- and given the group reviews I think I'd find very satisfying conversation there. Unfortunately, with my current work schedule it doesn't seem like I'll be able to attend any events in the short-term, but I'm going to keep a meticulous eye on this group.

Friendship, though I need to do more thinking, is necessary for one's fullest happiness, but not necessarily for a fundamental contentment. To be alone in the world spiritually can be quite wearisome, as even though I might hold conclusions to the contrary the world feels like a hopeless place when I'm surrounded by emotionalistic and provocative people, as I have been most of my life. Emotions are predominantly inductive, though they are greatly influenced by conscious thought, so constant bad experiences can add up negatively in one's emotional arithmetic.

My line of thought, however, is far from even having begun on this matter. A lot of this is admittedly not yet digested, and I'd be interested in hearing what other philosophers have to say about the nature of friendship, including the big one known as Aristotle. While I won't detail the specifics of my activities, I will in the future detail how I have been spiritually affected by conducting satisfying relationships. It might be alright to be alone when surrounded by bad people, but can you really make the most out of life in that condition?


  1. In my experience, being around people, as such, if approached properly, is a small, but necessary step in curtailing loneliness. Going for walks, especially in parks and busy streets, going to Starbucks on my own, browsing the library or a bookstore, was and is a value for me, for other reasons but also to be around other people, even as I struggle to meet and cultivate good people.

    I like seeing certain small aspects of peoples' facial expressions, mannerisms, tone of voice, etc. Even things like a reaction of a cashier or customer service clerk can be of small, but real social value to me.

    And I think there are two basic types of friends, at least in such a culture as today's. One is a deeply intellectual type, someone whose mind functions at least at the same high level one's one mind does, or higher. It's very rare to find that similar sense of life and intellectualism, and most of the time, you have to help develop it in other people if you expect to find something so personal and exact. I have had only one such friend in my own whole life so far, and only in the last few years, who I can discuss very intimate ideas with in a serious, intellectual way.

    The other is also important and not appreciated. It's a lighter type of socializing, a lower level of friendship that is still necessary. Someone who you can joke with, who you can be sarcastic and extemporaneously silly, benevolent, and clever with without getting into very serious intellectual discussions with. It took me maybe a year or two to learn to enjoy such company but I have come to value it as a somewhat regular thing. For me, it involves sharing an enjoyment of things like sitcoms, like Seinfeld, The League, and Parks and Recreation. Music like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, Guster, Radiohead, The Beatles, Dispatch.

    And constantly seeking out and being willing to experiment with romantic relationships, even informal, temporary ones, (most romantic relationships, especially when younger, will probably not be forever, and that shouldn't be a stigma; there are major values to be gained from relatively shorter, informal, mature romantic relationships) is real important too in maintaining a good sense of life and optimism. All the friendship in the world will not fill in for lack of romantic desires, at least seriously pursuing those desires and working to make oneself a better suitor.

  2. I tried to write a comment a few days ago and blogger killed it. Didn't have time to re-write at the time, but in short what I wanted to say what that socializing is pretty darn close to a non-optional value. I have 3 bits of advice. 1, definitely check out the O'ist group. It's nice to have people who are coming from the same (unusual) place you are. 2, check out some clubs at a local university. Usually there are philosophy clubs and other groups organized around a serious discussion of ideas and they are typically open to the public unofficially. 3, give people like coworkers a try. When I first started working, I thought I'd rather watch paint dry than listen to my coworkers talk about what they had for lunch, but after a few months of pushing our conversations into more intellectual, challenging territory, a number of them turned out to be quite capable of carrying such conversations and became more and more interested in them over time.

    Good luck!

  3. I am probably a misanthrope at heart, but I found over the years that almost everybody is capable of being a good friend on some level and has something to offer. I get along with people ranging from truck drivers to millionaires. As long as I can take them individually. I hate people in groups.


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