Friday, May 25, 2007

Why are people recluses?

I suspect that most people find it hard to understand why someone would isolate themselves from humanity. Human beings are almost all gregarious by nature and I suspect that very few people really like being alone. I too rejected the ideal of isolation when a spiritual friend and confidant, who is a Catholic hermit, suggested that this is my particular path on the Way. It was only after a great deal of soul-searching that I realized the wisdom of his suggestion.

Being in physical proximity with other people is not the same thing as being connected with them. And I know that in my case the times that I feel most alone are when I am with others who do not share the same values that I do.

Let me illustrate with a trivial example.

I work much of the time by myself (evenings), but there are parts of the year when I have come in during the day and help other staff members. One of the things that irks me about this is that my co-workers keep the receiving roll-up door wide open even during the hottest times of the year---even though this creates a gaping (20'x15') hole that the air-conditioned air rushes out all day long. (I live in a part of Canada that gets hideously hot during the summer months.) I have repeatedly tried to get them to close the door to save energy. The building mechanic has also done the same. We both have had to give up because these people absolutely, categorically refuse to change their ways and they will not listen to any argument in favour. Their responses are either to say that this is simply a question of personal choice: "You can shut it when we leave at night." Or, to deny that their behaviour has any effect on others: "Global warming is caused by the Americans, and it doesn't matter what we do."

I care deeply and passionately about the environment. I read things like the UN reports on climate change, so I know that future generations are going to curse all of us for the misery and damage we are causing to them. It is an open sore on my heart to see people who so royally and obviously do not give a damn about other people and Mother Nature that they will not make even the slightest, most trivial effort to prevent waste. (There is no convenience or benefit at all to having the doors open---they just like to look out the door and see the street.)

This is one example, and as I have already admitted, somewhat trivial. But it is indicative of the insane, crazy behaviour that I repeatedly see each and every day that I am out in human society. The feeling it gives me is that the ethical bedrock of my life, the essential core values that unify my life---are fundamentally worthless. It is like being punched in the solar plexis by just about everyone I meet.

What makes it so much worse is the knowledge that the intentions of the vast majority of these people are quite good. They want the best for their children, they don't steal or break any other conventional values. It's just that they are not terribly thoughtful and whatever values they hold are those that they were taught as children and which are reinforced by society. They do not have the creativity, education, time or interest to go out and try to think about what humanity is doing to the world around us and what the implication will be for future generations. They do not wander the Dao, they live small lives on the underside of an individual leaf.

So you see, when I am alone I actually feel a lot less isolated than when I am with other people. I have the birds, the insects, my cat and books that help me meet minds with the wise men and women of humanity's past. And on a good day, I can connect with that generalized sense of purpose and meaning in life that some people call "the Dao". These are my friends. They share my values and teach me new things every day. Moreover, they never make me feel like I "don't belong".


The Imugi said...

I know how you feel, and I get the impression Lao Tzu did as well...

Verse 20:

Everyone else is joyous
as if enjoying the greatest feast,
or going up the terraces in spring.
I alone am drifting without direction,
like a baby who has not yet smiled.
I alone am moping as if I had no home.
Everyone else has more than they need,
I alone seem in want.
I have the mind of a fool, how confused I am!
Other people are bright and clever,
I alone am dark.
Other people are alert and self-assured,
I alone am dull and muddled.
I am unsettled like the waves of the sea,
like the restless wind.
Everyone else has a purpose,
I alone am stubborn and awkward.
I am different from other people,
Even so, I am nourished by the Great

Pat said...

Is it like good is bad and bad is good, even if a friend says he hates the word perspective, but i for got why he hates it.