“Solitude is a skill. You can get better at it with practice.”
Sigal Samuel urges us to lean into being alone.
Many factors have conspired to make us bad at solitude. They’re mostly not our fault. As Jenny Odell lays out in her book How to Do Nothing, we live in a culture where sociability and constant connectivity are rewarded, and where choosing to be by yourself marks you out as a loser, crazy, possibly immoral.
This article goes deeper than I expected. Samuel offers several ingredients for making the most of solitude:
- “First, there’s the idea that to succeed at solitude, you have to accept that you’re being “thrown upon yourself” — to confront your reality rather than opting for distraction.
- “Another key ingredient to successful solitude, psychologists have found, is having a clear sense of purpose.”
- Some people who have adapted to living in isolation “emphasize the importance of routines — the little daily rituals that anchor us in time and give shape to a day.”
- “Many artists insist that isolation is necessary for creative work.”
- “Most world religions, even if they’re ambivalent about solitude as a long-term path, acknowledge that it’s useful for fostering spiritual insight.”
But Samuel also acknowledges that sudden isolation, such as that forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic, can also have risks. There’s a link to a guide to developing “distress tolerance skills” developed by psychologists for the Centre for Clinical Interventions, supported by the Australian government’s department of health.
NPR reports on several new studies that suggest the huge increase in loneliness social scientists expected to accompany the mandatory isolation necessary to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus hasn’t materialized.
Some researchers wonder if the many ways communities have found to band together while socially distanced—such as porch chats, Zoom dinners, neighborhood dancing—have contributed to the lower-than-expected rate of loneliness. Still, they add, conditions are ripe for anxiety and depression, which we should be on the lookout for in both ourselves and others.
My husband and I are both over 70, and we’ve been terrified by how hard this virus is hitting older adults. We have minimized our trips out as much as possible, always wear masks when outside the house, and stay six feet away from others when we do go to the grocery store. So I was surprised to see this news story about older people shocking their children by not following recommended health guidelines.
Various factors are contributing to this generational divide. Older people in the United States are statistically more likely than younger generations to listen to conservative media and to politicians who have played down the dangers of the virus, and some may have followed their lead. Others may be well aware of the risks but have weighed them against the mental and physical benefits of maintaining exercise and social routines.
Whatever the reasons, the dynamic can leave middle-aged people, many of whom may already be worried about their adult children going to protests or beach gatherings, feeling that they must also parent their parents.
This experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news is so common that there’s now internet lingo for it: “doomscrolling.” Exacerbating this behavior, shelter-in-place orders leave us with little to do other than to look at our screens; by some measures, our screen time has jumped at least 50 percent.
Read explanations of how to use these approaches to lift yourself out of the doom and gloom:
- Create a plan to control your time
- Practice meditation
- Connect with others
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront many bioethical questions, such as, when resources are limited, which lives should be saved and which sacrificed? Maren Tova Linett, author of Literary Bioethics, argues that fiction, with its ability to present imagined worlds, offers the chance to explore such concerns: “Fiction has the virtue of presenting vividly imagined worlds in which certain values hold sway, casting new light onto those values. And the more plausible we find these imagined worlds, the more thoroughly we can evaluate the justice of those values.”
Literary Bioethics considers novels such as The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I’ve been hearing a lot about systemic racism in the U.S., the fact that racism is built so basically into our culture that even the best-intentioned white folks don’t notice it. This article from Atlas Obscura startlingly illustrates that point.
“The idyllic ideal of modern suburbia in the United States was born in 1947 with the creation of Levittown, a large housing development in Long Island, New York.” Furthermore:
A clause in the standard lease for the first Levitt houses baldly stated that the homes could not “be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.” Government policies at the time, such as those of the Federal Housing Administration, supported such racist practices, blocking Black Americans and other people of color from the new suburbs and homeownership.
I’ll just leave that fact right there.
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown