Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Discovering Independence

I just got off the phone with my long-distance girlfriend and I realized something- I am not Howard Roark. Howard Roark is a character in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead". He is an architect, who above all else, is an independent entity. His emotions are not tied to anyone or anything, only himself and his work. Being a graduate student is a potentially incredibly lonely and isolating experience. It is important to discover the ability to be alone.

Despite all the people I have met and all the people I know, I am often alone, and now, more than ever since my girlfriend has moved away. Realizing tonight that my mood is partly a function of her mood made me realize as I said before, I am not Howard Roark. Is being completely independent a totally desirable mode? It is hard to identify this because we are certainly not programmed to be this way by our genes. Being independent has it costs and benefits. It is good to know how to take care of oneself, but at the same time, we can learn from others and share with others for mutual benefit. My genes tell me one thing but my mind tells me another. Which do I listen to?

In this case, it is important to listen to both. It is essentially super human to be completely void of any emotion associated with anyone else. We must accept this and move on and not strive to be Ayn Rand's ideal that is Howard Roark. However, at the same time, it is important to use our rational mind to identify why one is feeling the way he or she is and to understand it. In the case of being alone, it can be distracting and depressing, causing one to feel self-loathing and lack of motivation. A simple call from a friend may completely turn you around. Knowing that another person in the world is thinking about you may make you feel temporary happiness. The medical term for extreme cases of this is bipolar disorder. It is important to try to figure out how to make these emotions as moderate as possible since we are not interested simply in temporary happiness, but long term fulfillment. Something that helps me, for example, is doing what I am doing right now, which is writing about it.

It is hard offer a prescription or a method on how to deal with being alone. This is not my intention. Nonetheless, learning to be alone is something which is crucial if you are a graduate student. A person who is mostly independent will likely find that more people want to be around him or her, and he or she will quickly appreciate so much the thing that they were trying to originally escape: being alone.


cspice said...

I saw this on digg:

I definitely think that the incessant pursuit of productivity pushes people toward isolation. It is simply easier to get more work done when you don't bother too much with other people. And furthermore, working a lot reduces your desire to spend time with other people. But given the psychological and physical consequences, I tend to think that going into isolation is a dangerous strategy. So it seems the only option is to try to find some kind of balance and stay ever-vigilant.

bspice said...

I think technology also pushes people toward isolation. People used to be forced to go to communal centers to accomplish everyday tasks. Now people could go through life barely interacting with anyone. Chatting/texting replaces real meaningful interactions with people. Also, you can order anything you need online rather than going to a store/market to interact with people there.

If we had the academy like aspice suggested, we could avoid the isolation associated with graduate school.

I think the proper balance will be much more on the social side than the alone side.

mspice said...

i agree that going into isolation is dangerous, but surrounding yourself with pseudo friends or even really good friends all the time is also dangerous. for example, even with a spicy lifestyler academy, we would have to make sure not to just interact among each other, unless, of course, everyone that we needed to meet was already a member!