If I’m alone, can I have a tribe?

Tribes seem to be the thing these days. Much has been written on how to identify, join or cultivate your tribe.

This poses something of a conundrum for the aloners amongst us. Is it possible to belong to a group of people who want to be alone? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Could such a group exist?

It could, although it’s unlikely to use Meetup to organise a weekly get together, or hold an annual conference in Vegas. (I may be proved wrong on all points).

It’s more likely to be virtual rather than physical, but tribes seem to be more about ideas and ideals in common than spatial proximity.

Books and blogs on living alone by choice, and doing it well – living a full life, however you define that – are a way to bond with like-minded spirits, without needing to actually get together.

It still surprises me that there is a market for so many books on living alone. No doubt some of the readership is vicariously experiencing something they have no intention of trying first hand, but equally there are enough people writing of their experience to suggest a critical mass of people who DO live alone and find satisfaction in it.

For aloners, this is about as much togetherness as needed. Knowing there are others out there who live alone and who find ways to live rich and satisfying lives, or for whom it answers a deep need in their soul, is all I need to know. Knowing that I’m not alone in wanting to be alone is reassuring.

I may never meet these fellow aloners, or talk to them or know their real names, but they are nonetheless my tribe. They are the people who through their words let me know that I do belong, even if it’s only to a group that doesn’t really exist. We’re all alone, and there’s solidarity in that.


Are you a Good Person?

When I was writing about the morally superior humblebrag, I started to think about a related phenomenon that often goes hand in hand with it: the Good Person claim.

It’s still a largely American thing, often heard on television, issued by someone pleading for people not to hate them because something happened that they didn’t intend. As they stand beside the wreckage they have caused, they plaintively wail, “but I’m a Good Person.”

I find this a peculiar claim. Being a good person is not an immutable status, nor is it a status we are in any position to evaluate ourselves on.Of course we think we’re good: even when we’re doing things that are manifestly not good, we justify them in our minds as the most appropriate thing to do given the circumstances (“I shot him because he hurt my brother” – meaning, “any reasonable person would see this is a perfectly rational respose to this situation”. The fact that our thinking can be so distorted is why we have laws and a justice system.)

We live our lives doing what we think is best. That’s a given. We choose what we believe are the best options with the best outcomes. Where it all comes apart is in the question of “best for whom”. Usually, it’s best for us. That’s not to say we totally ignore the potential consequences for others, but on balance we tend to give greater weight to what will be beneficial to us or our family or loved ones or career, and will lead to the outcomes we want. Exceptions to this behaviour are so rare that we have a name for them: saints. At the other end of the spectrum, those who truly believe the outcome that is best for them is also best for everyone else are called narcissists.

So by our own assessment, of course we are good people.

Our intentions are good, but that doesn’t mean our actions invariably have good consequences. We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their actions. Hence, in our minds we remain good people even when our actions would prove otherwise.

For years, religion has been reminding us that we are good people (“created in the image and likeness of God”) who do bad things. Not much has changed since that thought was first voiced. In that sense, claiming to be a Good Person is merely stating the obvious: that we are born good. It overlooks the fact that we subsequently learn to do bad, to hate, to hurt.

What being a Good Person doesn’t mean is that we are incapable of doing bad, ugly, appalling, hurtful, hateful and downright despicable things. We are more than capable, and we do them over and over in a thousand different ways. What makes us better people is apologising, sincerely, and making every effort not to repeat the error.

I’d have far more time for those people claiming to be Good People in the face of evidence to the contrary (judged by their actions) if they would spend their airtime showing concern and compassion for those they have inadvertently hurt, and seeking to put things right. Not because they want to restore their reputation and be seen once more as a Good Person, but because it’s the right thing to do.

In other words: make it right, don’t make yourself right.





The morally superior humblebrag

To be fair, it’s not Facebook’s fault that people post annoying things on it. My latest peeve is a variation of the Humblebrag that I have decided is the Morally Superior Humblebrag.

This is a typical scenario based very loosely on a recent post that invaded my feed:

I was driving home when I noticed a [person behaving is some odd way that leads to judgement from others]. Drivers were honking at her, passers by avoided her, people hurled abuse etc. I was the only one who stopped to help. I realised she was suffering from some condition for which miraculously I had something appropriate in my handbag/car. I drove her to hospital where the doctors said she’d have died without my help [crucial detail – I saved a life here, I’m a hero but I don’t want to brag …]What is wrong with people that they are so selfish that no one stopped to help? No one cares any more and society is going to the dogs.

In other words: thank god for me, I’m better than all those other people.

It’s a narcissistic retelling of the Good Samaritan story, although rather missing the point of that parable.

Why not just announce, “I did a pretty awesome thing today and therefore I’m a really Good Person”? Because that is how it sounds when the ‘outrage’ directed at others is stripped away.

Self praise is no reference. Especially not when it’s feebly disguised under a pile of contempt for the behaviour of others.

Living alone is not the same as being alone

I realised the other day that I know quite a few people who live alone, but I don’t always think of them as living alone.

For example, my friend T lives in her own home but every so often stays with her partner either at his place or hers, and her university-aged children periodically return home for holidays and to do laundry. So although technically she lives alone, she doesn’t live an ‘alone’ life. And she would say the same thing.

This is quite possibly true for most people who are divorced and have kids, and for those who have re-partnered but for whatever reason have opted not to cohabit. Some people who live alone have amazingly ‘peopled’ lives, with constant and regular contact with friends, interest groups and activities.

This is not my life. I live alone but I am also very alone in the way I live. I rarely have friends over, and frequently spend the weekend having no contact with anyone. It’s not uncommon that I won’t speak to anyone all weekend. When I do, it’s most likely to be with the supermarket checkout operator or the barista at the cafe. I don’t belong to groups and participate in group activities. I like to run, but I do that on my own, early in the morning when it’s quiet and there aren’t many people around.

During the week, I’m surrounded by people all day, I get interrupted more often than I like, I have meetings, I talk to people for a good chunk of every day. Most of this is very draining, even when it’s good. Or especially when it’s good. So I come home very tired, and by the end of the week I am done in. My weekends are essential down time, allowing me to recover and build my strength for the coming week.

This is my choice, my preferred way of living. I need to be alone because it’s the only thing that keeps me going. Living alone is one part of that, and being alone is the other. I need both.