Why we shouldn’t fear being alone

Frank Furedi in Sp!ked:

It is unpleasant to feel alone. Loneliness can be a source of desolation and anguish. That is why it is understandable that many of us look for ways to fix it. Some seek out therapy, others join social clubs and attempt to forge new relationships and contacts. The refusal to accept social isolation and the search for solidarity shapes who we are and influences community life. Loneliness is not just a condition that we must suffer. It also provides people with an opportunity to gain an understanding of themselves and of their world. The theologian Paul Tillich exhorted people to embrace their loneliness, because it forces us to engage with life’s two most fundamental questions: what is the meaning of life and how should we understand ourselves?

He argued that the word loneliness expresses ‘the pain of being alone’, while the term solitude captures the ‘glory of being alone’. This draws on Greek philosophers, who understood the importance of the value of self-reflection. Socrates referred to thinking as the soul’s internal dialogue with itself. The capacity to conduct an internal dialogue is essential for the development of a sense of self. It also helps you manage loneliness. Arendt, like Socrates, believed that the anguish of loneliness could be managed through the habit of conversing with oneself. Though still alone, she believed that through a ‘silent dialogue of myself with myself’, she was ‘together with somebody’. What Arendt, Tillich and other philosophers understood was that there is real value in solitude.

The medicalisation of loneliness distracts people from understanding the importance of living with solitude. Solitude is essential for the development of people’s sense of self and freedom. Our solitude provides a space where we can be free from any external pressure and control. It is a precious space that we open up to the gaze of doctors and health experts at our peril – doing so risks undermining our sense of moral independence. It is also the place where human beings can develop the psychological and moral resources they require to enter into intimate relationships.

More here.