On loneliness, solitude and the pandemic

By Elie Mikhael Nasrallah

There are folks out there with thousands of Facebook “friends” but no one to call, have a drink with, or watch a sport game together. This modern online friendship is as illusive, deceiving, and pointless as the pursuit of utopia on this earth.

Friendship and modernity are at odds. A friend, as Aristotle said, is supposed to be your shadow self. What meaning, usefulness, or relevance to friendship there are when people often advertise events like having a breakfast on Facebook, showing a pet playing, or strolling a beach somewhere?

Friendship online is entertainment gone wild. The human connection of real affection, caring for another person because of childhood memories, work-related bond, or political/religious commonality, are all set-aside for the sake of playfulness and imagery.

Val Walker wrote a book titled: “400 Friends and No One to Call: Breaking Through Isolation and Building Community,” advocating the notion that to connect with your community, society and the world, volunteering is as good as it gets to find purpose, meaning and daily plan of action and connection.

For the world is exhausting and dangerous, constantly pulling you in different directions. The loneliness that the world produces via social media, barrage of daily news—mostly about pandemics, wars, flooding, climate change disasters, Donald Trump’s latest conspiracy theory, or bizarre uttering on January 6th insurrection, or a new lawsuit, or Putin’s latest invasion threat, or the killing of a journalist—all conspire to make a person beg for solitude.

The deafening noise of politics in the midst of a pandemic is alarming. Several retired generals in the U.S. are so concerned that the 2024 election could result in a new coup or insurrection that the military may split due to political divisions and the U.S. could slide slowly into civil war. They fear such a potential disaster that they wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on December 21, 2021, warning and offering some ideas to plan ahead. They wrote: “In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote; “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion, it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the world, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

No rest for a second if you are addicted to CNN, FOX, CBC, or Al Jazeera. Reflection is limited; historical consciousness is swept away by the constant advance of the tide of reported events, not to mention that a new variant of a pandemic that is constantly changing and advancing with science and human impotence to escape the fate of deadly viruses and pandemics, present and on the horizon.

No great things have ever been achieved without two prerequisites, enthusiasm and solitude. Hence the dilemma of today’s culture: a bombardment of too much information and too little time to digest and make sense of it all.

Thomas Carlyle recognized a long time ago that “history shows that the majority of people that have done anything great have passed their youth in seclusion.” The present loneliness, mental heath issues, even depression with the young, the elderly and ordinary people are on the rise before and surely after this historic pandemic.

The present young generation is starving for solitude. They are not reading the liberal arts literature, writing or reflecting on their experiences and life lessons. Social media kills all that romance with one’s thoughts and inner peace. For solitude is the mother of thinking and reflecting. Without it, our human affairs are empty of meaning and seldom productive. In an age of “alternative reality/facts” as Trumpism likes to spread the notion, living sanely is at risk in an environment where the cherished Enlightenment principles are pushed aside and made obsolete.

“The world is tiresome,” George Will once wrote, “alarming and too much with us. But perhaps enjoyment–in writing, reading and arguing about the world–is the best revenge.”

Even better, I venture to suggest, the best strategy to conquer this restless, ever-changing world, is to leave it by seeking the only workable virtue, that is solitude.

For solitude is not loneliness. One need not call anyone during a solitude session. Loneliness, however, even with 4000 Facebook “friends”, or a Twitter account by the millions, like Trump, he and you may have no friend to call…!

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah is an immigration consultant practising in Ottawa. His book “Gates and Walls: Reflections on the Immigration Question in Canada and the USA” will be published in 2022. He is the author of two other books and co-authored a third.  www.eliemnasrallah.com