In his political philosophy work entitled Politics, Aristotle wrote, “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”
However, in a piece by K.J. Dell’Antonia in The New York Times entitled “Am I introverted, or Just Rude?“, the NYT columnist and contributing editor examines the whole social animal question in a somewhat different light. Apparently impacted by the critically acclaimed book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Ms. Dell’Antonia muses:
“Suddenly, a resistance to social intercourse became, not just acceptable, but cool.”
Ms. Dell’Antonia goes on to pose the following question: “Life is largely lived among acquaintances and strangers. So many fall into problematic categories: some appear different or unapproachable, some we actively dislike, some we’ve failed to connect with in the past. What do we have to gain from even trying?”
She goes on to answer her own question, stating that there is a lot to be gained from social interaction: “Extending ourselves can actually be good for us. We forget that we don’t always know what makes us happy. We predict that we prefer solitude on our commute, for example, but consistently report a more positive experience when we connect with a stranger.”
Like my last post on mental health with freelancers, artists and entrepreneurs, these same vocations necessarily call for spending long stretches of time on your own if you’re to be successful. There’s also a tendency to become more isolated – and by extension more introverted – the longer you are involved in one of these fields of work. As you grow older, this only makes it more difficult to branch out and socialize, either with old friends and family members or with strangers. The onus, therefore, falls on us to maintain our “social animal” status.
Just like the famed Greek philosopher, Ms. Dell’Antonia ends her piece by concluding that being unsocial (the words “antisocial” and “loner” just seem so much more negative) is not a good thing (unless you’re a god, of course), and essentially uses the same comparison to Aristotle’s beast, if in a more politically correct way, saying:
“There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others. That’s not about introversion. It’s just an ordinary version of selfishness.”
P.S. Click on the following link to watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk.