The past few days I have been thinking about the role that being alone vs. being with people plays in each of our lives and the importance of finding the right balance of social vs. solitude time. This is true for us as individuals, this is true for us as parents, and this is true for us as educators and as synagogue leaders. There is a lot of noise everywhere. There are beeps, chirps, buzzes, rings, chimes – to say nothing of bangs, gongs, crinkles and more. The world is a veritable symphony of sounds. I live an interesting life. I work out of my house, alone much of the time, and yet I look down upon a fairly busy street with trucks, cars, people, dogs and school buses passing by. In many ways I am very much alone during the day, there is no one to laugh at my funny one liners, no one to growl at when I am frustrated, no one to gossip with at the water cooler. I don’t even have a water cooler. Yet, at the same time, there is always someone around, someone to look at, someone to wonder about. Sometimes I create stories about the lives of those who wander by. The student with the backpack, the young child rushing ahead of her mother, the older woman carefully walking on the cobblestones so as not to fall, the biker commuting to work. These days, most everyone is in their own little world, bundled up tightly to keep warm as the temperatures plummet. This contrast in my life has made me think about the balance of noise vs. quiet, of alone time vs. people time, that I need. It has also provided me the opportunity to think about it in terms of others.
The world we live in gives us subtle, but strong, messages that connection is good, that being alone is bad. We should make friends, we should find life partners, we should join synagogues or otherwise connect to communities because that is good for us. Most of us don’t want to be the person who sits alone day after day. Yet, I wonder if we are missing something. I wonder if we are not offering people, young and old, all of what they need. There are many kinds of people in this world. To use Myers Briggs terms there are the I’s (introverts) as well as the E’s (extroverts). To simplify, extroverts derive energy from being with people, introverts derive energy from being by themselves. Most of us are some combination. Most of us need some contact with people and some measure of solitude, of connecting with ourselves. As parents and educators, I think we focus most of our energy on the extrovert part, working to find ways to help children and adults connect and socialize with one another. However, it is just as important to learn to be comfortable by yourself. That is a harder lesson these days. There used to be more natural times when people were alone. In the past, taking a walk was a solitary activity – now many people walk while talking on their cell phones. Falling asleep used to be solitary, now many are on their Ipads until their last waking minute. A recent article even pointed to large numbers of people using their smart phones in the bathroom. There are very few spaces not invaded by others these days.
As 2013 begins I urge us to think about this. For ourselves, our challenge is to allow time to find the opportunities we need to recharge ourselves with ourselves, to find the quiet we need to hear the voice within us, to be alone often and long enough to learn and appreciate who we are. Our challenge with our children, our students, and in our communities, is to make sure that we not only provide opportunities for socialization and connection to one another, but that we also provide opportunities for looking inward, for young people to be with themselves, to learn to treasure their unique beings, to learn to appreciate and not fear the sounds of silence and the absence of noise. By so doing, my hope is that each of us and those around us, will continue to grow and develop and to have the personal strength to learn to recognize our own sound and to add each of our own unique sounds to the mix around us.