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Alone Time is not about loneliness

group2 2013 0027Being immersed in alone time during holidays is a dear and valued joy; whether in my room, in the ocean or in the magnificent silence of the Mitchell library. Such aloneness, feeling uncomfortable at parties (hence you will find me most oft in the kitchen at the Kinma auction) and finding shopping malls near impossible does not mean I always like to be alone nor that I suffer from loneliness, it simply means that solitude is vital to my wellbeing.

Listening and reading Susan Cain makes me realise that not only am I not alone in blissing to be alone but that being alone benefits my creativity (and that of the planet) as well as my productivity (and that of the planet). Sounds win-win in anyone’s language.

And I am what Cain would term an ambivert, someone equally comfortable in the world of extraversion and introversion. But don’t read her book to learn about ambiverts as they are not referred to, her focus is most definitely on introversion.

Carl Jung, who first used the terms, defined introversion as an ‘attitude-type characterised by orientation in life through subjective psychic contents’ (focus on one's inner psychic activity) and extraversion as ‘an attitude type characterised by concentration of interest on the external object’, (the outside world). An introvert is one who responds to quieter forms of stimulation; feeling more alive in quieter, low key environments. An extrovert responds more easily to louder forms of stimulation. Jung pointed out that we all have elements of both but most of us show a preference for one or the other. An ambivert can thrive equally in both. We are advised to place ourselves in zones of stimulation best suited to our greater leaning. But there is a problem, most don’t know whether they are naturally more introverted or extroverted as society has a premium on the latter and many find themselves trying to be extraverted to ‘fit in’.

Anne, mum of Asher and Mica, and I chatted at the poetry festival about solitude, aloneness and that not all folk need to recite poetry to engage with it. That indeed for some, writing the poetry or even reading it to themselves is the experience. Yet there is a ‘negative’ take on introversion in our highly socially ‘media’ted society. While reporting and photographing daily minutiae to hordes one doesn’t know is a valued activity, choosing to be absent from it, and engaging in private assorted activities is looked upon as unhealthy, withdrawn, even a cause for concern. Could it not just be different? 30-50% of population different?

It is important to distinguish here between folk who cut themselves off from all relationships, barring themselves off from the world. Very few people are happy in a ‘hermit’ like state, such as Glenn Gould, piano virtuoso. And indeed real concern is raised for a growing percentage of the community, largely youth, who have tuned themselves out of ‘real- face to face’ relationship in place of screen communication. However, this is not the group to which reference is being made.

A move to ‘group’ space, group think, committees and the like as a REPLACEMENT of alone time is at issue. We see this in institutionalised life; the school and work places, where now, sharing/ ‘group-think’ is valued over and above all else. Cain suggests that our role models have moved from those of deep moral character to those who teach us ‘ How to win friends and influence People’.
For those who thrive with swathes of alone time (35-50% of the population according to Cain), this can seriously impede not only their learning and production but those with whom they learn, live and work. She suggests that group work be limited to scenarios following ‘alone’ time. She guides schools to offer time to students to think through their own thoughts first, generate their own ideas and only then share in a group.

At Kinma, as you may have experienced first hand in adult learning forums, if you have not witnessed it in your children’s classes, we ask that individuals sit in silence for a brief time when first meeting stimuli. We suggest that people consider personal questions, values, connection points with the material or intent before ‘he or she of loudest voice’ is heard. People learn to value quiet for what it gifts. This is so important for children as they learn not only that everyone can get ideas/ respond/ create in this space but that each piece generated is valued and deserves consideration. If this process is not honoured, not only does ‘s/he of loudest voice’ speak first but conversation/ learning often revolves around the idea sprouted. It is worth noting that this idea may or may not be of interest, applicability or value to the group as a whole.

Cain points to research from Wharton Behaviour Lab which shows that we tend increasingly to ape the loudest idea in the room, even if we do not feel connection to the ape! As social mimicry increases, our critical thinking prowess decreases and we take the lead of others in the place of choosing for ourselves. We lean to extraversion, in place of what may be for us more productive- intro or ambi version.

Where possible, we need to give equal opportunities to our introverted leaning friends, children, work-mates. She suggests not only the above ‘alone’ prior to ‘group’ think but, accessing the wilderness ‘alone’ and self-development work. The latter she suggests is necessary to ensure that we all access what is important to us ‘in our own’ suitcases and consider sharing this – whether we are introverted or extraverted. She points out that we have so much to learn from the many famous introverts such as Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Steve Wosniak (the other half of Apple), JK Rowling and Eleanor Roosevelt all of whom battled to share publicly.

It is for this reason that poems may be read out for students at Kinma. Their writing is a gift not to be belittled because recitation is not (yet) chosen. This is not to say that children are not encouraged to share their work in the oral form and that a move toward it can be enriching, but respect is shown should that not be a priority.

And so the holidays draw to a close and the quieter time will feature less profusely. I am grateful for the break but feel recharged to engage afresh.

You may like to read or browse Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I have ordered a copy for the school. Alternatively, you may like to browse one of Cain’s articles: eg in NY Times Sunday Review ‘The Rise of the New Groupthink’ or watch this TED talk: The Power of Introverts 

Cited above, Jung, C (1995) : Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp 414-5

- Juli G, Educational Co-Ordinator