Monday, November 29, 2010

Leave me alone

We, as humans, hate being alone. We constantly want to be surrounded by people we know - we have numerous friends and family and failing that, we keep pets and treat them like humans. We fear loneliness, so much so that we have made it a taboo of society and label those who are content with their own company as 'loners'. Our craving for this constant company is undeniably proven by the success and strange addictiveness of social networking sites like Facebook. Several times a day, whether in the library, at home or on the train, we find ourselves repeatedly logging in to check notifications, browse the newsfeed and update our personal network with information about where we are and what we're doing. With every notification we receive, we are comforted by the fact that our friends exist and acknowledge our existence, hence ensuring us that we are not really alone.

We continuously text, call, Ping and BBM and yet, majority of these conversations have no point. They are merely to prevent us from falling into that dreaded state of being alone. Every contact with another person strengthens our safe, happy bubble of company that cushions us through the day. But it is inevitable that this bubble bursts from time to time and our source of cyber-company is stripped away from us. On the tube, when there is no signal for a phone, too much noise to hear an iPod and not enough space to read the Metro, an expression of fear creeps into people's faces. They will do anything to avoid eye contact, as though this in itself will condemn them to a lifetime of solitude. Instead, the same adverts are read repeatedly until the Mayor of London's latest mantra is learnt off by heart, and fellow passengers' choices of footwear suddenly become the raison d'etre. As crowds emerge from the underground, there is a collective sigh of relief as phones ring and invisible yet indispensable bubbles of popularity are re-established.

However, there is a paradox in this craving for company in that the art of proper, meaningful conversation apparently eludes us. It is not uncommon to find a group of friends texting rather than talking, or comparing Facebook profiles rather than having face to face conversations. We are becoming an almost robotic society, devoid of opinions because we do not allow ourselves the time to think and listen to our thoughts. What is hidden inside our heads that we are so afraid to hear? If we stop, just for a while, we might find out that what we fear does not actually exist. Just as we were liberated at the age of 12 by the knowledge that the boogie monster does not really exist, similarly we should free our minds now from the constraints of constant company that our lives today impose upon us.

Everyone likes to describe themselves as independent, but how many of these apparently independent people would be happy to go to the cinema alone, attend a party where they know no-one or simply sit alone at home with the phone line disconnected, the internet disabled and mobile switched off? The confidence to venture out into the world with only you and yourself for company is the true definition of independence. As one philosopher eloquently said, 'Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness. The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines.'

Friday, April 30, 2010

Weren't me, Sir!

Denial. It’s a common human trait. Let’s not lie, we’ve all done it at least once in our lives, and if you don’t agree then you’re probably in denial at this very moment. To accept the truth, to own up to our mistakes and admit that we were wrong is something that everyone finds hard, whether they be politicians, students, husbands or siblings (wives are obviously never at fault). Nobody wants to say they’re wrong. It’s fair enough really; we all like to be right – especially if you can prove someone else wrong at the same time. But sometimes, maybe we take it too far and we need to take a step back.

Often, friends and family relate incidents to me with such indignation that I feel inclined to take their side out of pure fear. But it sometimes happens that from my point of view, the other person was right and my friend is just being over-sensitive. If this is the case, I try to face my fear and gently point out that perhaps the other person had a point, or didn’t intend to offend. My suggestions result in one of three reactions: 1) subdued silence followed by eventual agreement, 2) a thoroughly confused expression followed by a repetition of the entire story since I didn’t seem to understand how unjustly they were treated, or 3) a slap across the face. Sadly, the third option appears to be most favoured.

I don’t blame anyone for this denial reflex, since I myself am guilty of it. When someone points out that I am at fault, I will fight to the death to prove otherwise. However, once the argument is lost, and I am gifted with the beauty of hindsight, I realise it would have been better to put my hands up from the start and save myself a lot of time, energy and embarrassment. The worst is when such moments are captured on video and replayed at family occasions. You watch yourself as a sailor might watch his final moments from heaven, sighing in frustration as he tried to rescue his broken boat instead of swimming to safety, resulting in his eventual death. Obviously, this is a metaphor and one would hope that the consequences are somewhat less severe in reality.

But what brought me to all this was of course, election fever which is sweeping across the country. On Wednesday this week, Gordon Brown denounced an elderly lady as ‘bigoted’. This was, unfortunately for him (but fortunately for the rest of the country) caught on microphone and so denial was simply not an option for Mr Brown. Yet we find that he cannot simply state, ‘Yes, people of England, I called this lady bigoted because I think she is. I do apologise, but this is who I am really. Don’t forget to vote Labour next week’. Instead, he floundered around claiming that he had ‘misunderstood’ what she was saying. Really, Gordon, you’ve lost these elections anyways. Do at least one honourable thing whilst you’re Prime Minister and accept it: you are the bigoted one.