B2 High-Intermediate UK 241 Folder Collection
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When we think of what might have been lost on the way to becoming modern, we're liable
to think about mealtimes: how seldom they now take place communally, how rare it is
for whole families to gather, how much technology can intrude. In paintings of communal meals
that reflect the older way of doing things, we can appreciate how all ages used to come
together around a table and how welcoming the atmosphere seems to have been. Even the
family horse might have been invited to join in.
The modern condition appears so bleak by comparison. Rather than a family around the hearth, the
emblematic image is of a single person with a tray on their trees in front of the television.
It was the Swanson Corporation, originally a poultry producer in Omaha, Nebraska, that
launched the frozen TV dinner in 1954, the same year colour television was introduced
in the United States. It is a short distance in time, but a long way in spirit, from Norman
Rockwell's laughter-filled family Thanksgiving celebration to Swanson's industrially produced
turkey meal for one ('Just heat and serve').
Modernity is surely a lonelier place than the world that preceded it. The question is
why. It isn't ultimately technology (cities, cars or screens) that have made us lonely;
it's an identifiable set of ideas. We have rendered ourselves lonely first and foremost
because of certain stories we have started to tell about what loneliness means.
Most eras before our own knew that solitude did not - per se - have to be a sign of wretchedness
or deficiency. In the fourth century, the greatest saint of early Christianity, Saint
Anthony, was said to have spent more than forty years by himself in Egypt's Western
desert, not saying a word, eating only bread and salt, communing with God. So impressed
were some with St Anthony's life, they came to join him in the desert,
and became collectively known as the Desert Fathers, and their philosophy of solitary
piety would go on to have a decisive influence on the founding of monasteries. At the height
of monasticism in the Middle Ages, a million people across Europe and north Africa had
chosen to forego the bustle of family and commerce in order to dwell, in some of the
most rugged and remote terrain in the world, in silent contemplation of God
However, in the wake of the Reformation and the destruction of the monasteries that accompanied
it, solitary piety began to lose its prestige and recede as a practical option. Those who
had previously lived alone at the tops of mountains were now encouraged to serve God
by remaining in the community, finding a suitable spouse - and starting a family.
To this newly social religious impetus was added the influence of Romanticism, a movement
of ideas that - with different ends in view - similarly encouraged people to give up on
thorough commitments to their own company and questioned the honour of solitude. For
the Romantics, happiness lay in identifying one exceptional soulmate to whom one could
surrender one's independence and with whom one might fuse mind and body.
In the process, the Romantic movement turned solitude from a respectable choice, to evidence
of pathology.
When the Beatles released Eleanor Rigby in 1966, the song that more than any other defined
what loneliness meant for the modern age, it was at once clear why Eleanor was a lamentable
figure. The famous face that she kept in a jar by the door had been intended for the
enchanting partner that, like all single people, she must have longed to find. Only with romantic
love could there be a decent life, so ran the philosophy of the song, of all the Beatles'
works and in fact, of every modern pop song every written. Fail to fall completely in
love and, Romanticism warned, one would soon enough be picking up rice in the church where
a wedding had been - or rivalling for strangeness the comparably odd Father Mackenzie, around
whom there seemed so little of the glamour that had once attended the Desert Fathers.
The modern world not only made it mandatory to have a partner. It made it feel essential
to have a vibrant gang of friends - and to enjoy seeing them regularly at parties. An
empty diary became an emblem of deformity.
But there was not
the slightest admission that it might, all things considered, be a distinctly curious
thing to stand in a crowded room full of status-panicked, socially-anxious people, every one of them
terrified of honesty or failure.
In 1921, Carl Jung - in his book Psychological Types - introduced the terms 'extraverted'
and 'introverted' to divide humanity. The former referred to a sort of person who
could best realise their potential in the company of others; the latter were those who
needed to move away from crowds and idle chatter in order to regain their integrity. 'Everyone
possesses both mechanisms,' wrote Jung - but it was evident where the spirit of the age
resided.
It's been the achievement of a few, often at the time ignored artists of the modern
period to make a case for introversion, to try to coat solitude in glamour. In a painting
by Caspar David Friedrich, we are invited to trust that the lonely figure in the landscape
is privy to insights that would be lost in the crowd down in the lowlands, he has needed
to travel up to the mountains in order to put the bluster and envy of humans into perspective;
We should dare to follow him in his trajectory.
Separated by many decades, Gwen John's young woman doesn't seem to belong to any official
religion. But if there were one dedicated to the appreciation of solitude, she would
be one of its saintly and legendary figures. Her expression - kind, gentle, melancholy
and lost in profundity - is an advertisement for all that modernity has neglected in its
promotion of active, cheery lives.
Isolation isn't a particular malediction; it's where good people tend to end up.
We should dare to believe that we are in solitude not because we are ill but because we are
noble of spirit. We don't hate company; it's just that we would prefer to stay home
rather than accept the counterfeit tokens of community presently on offer.
The way to make people feel less alone isn't to pull them out of their musings in the forest
or in the diner, in the library or the desert - and force them to go bowling. It's to
reassure them that being alone is no sign of failure. To lessen modernity's crisis
of loneliness, we need for solitude to be rehabilitated and for singlehood to regain
its dignity. There is nothing catastrophic about eating dinner, many dinners, on our
own. The Swanson TV dinners might have been capable of improvement, but it is ultimately
far better to be eating a basic meal in peace than to be in a ballroom surrounded by false
smiles and oppressive judgements. When we do so, we aren't in fact on our own at all.
We are - as modernity has failed to remind us - dining with some of the finest, most
elevated spirits who have ever lived. We are, though ostensibly by ourselves, in the very
best company.
One of the trickiest tasks we ever have to face is that of working out who we really are.
This book is designed to help us create a psychological portrait of ourselves with the help of some unusual, oblique, entertaining, and playful prompts. Click the link on screen now to find out more.
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Why Are we All so Lonely?

241 Folder Collection
VoiceTuber_304469 published on July 25, 2020
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