I don’t usually have epiphanies, but when I do they cause giant earthquakes at the very core of my being and then I’m not the same person anymore.
I remember the beginning of my adolescence being tainted with a tumult of an internal sorts, between wanting to be popular and wanting to be left alone at the same time. Then suddenly I was 19 one day and I had to make the choice of a lifetime. Because of course, adults aren’t supposed to be confused or divided on the inside, I told myself then, hah. After diligent observation and consideration and experimentation I chose the path that felt most natural, most comfortable and most congenial. Pleasantly I severed all my social connections and embraced my extremely introverted tendencies. That got me all the time in the universe to read books, to have Hannibal marathons, to master the four-suite Spider Solitaire, to teach myself Norwegian, to sing Gaelic songs in excitingly long showers, to travel without limitations, to write without hesitations, to make a new paper-mache monument everyday and to quietly stare at the inky blue black sky shaped slate every night and peruse the scrawls made of stars.
It was a good life.
And like all good things ever, it stood in complete contrast with the rest of my family. My parents live on social philosophies which were poles apart from mine. My behaviour was an incessant source of irritation to them and theirs to me. I just couldn’t fathom how I could share genes with people so abnormally active in social engagements. My father proactively uses social media to stay in close touch with not only his college friends but also his schoolmates and school teachers and staff. Just last month, his group organized a huge reunion for a clerk who was retiring from their school after 34 years. And I don’t even know my neighbour’s name…
This morning, I woke up to see my mother running around preparing breakfast for some distant elderly relative from the other side of the town who has been admitted in a hospital near our house. I couldn’t decipher the logic. Dad was significantly understaffed at office, which meant a lot of extra work for him and yet he went on to spend his entire morning running around, to help these relatives at the hospital. He could’ve simply delegated the hospital duties to a cousin or someone. It was nothing serious after all. And my mother spent her day helping dad’s friend’s wife shop for local ethnic clothes for her two year old niece.
Then it struck to me. Though my parents do their social bit selflessly, tomorrow should trouble strike them, people will come to help. Because they’ve helped people at every occasion that they could. Or tomorrow, if my parents choose to throw a party, people will happily come to attend. And me? I could go AWOL for a week and even after that perhaps my neighbour’s dog would be the only one who notices. In a smaller and more primitive setting, if the world was a really a village and it was struck by a flood, my chances of survival would be the least. Because, one, no one would remember warning me about the flood; two, no one would notice my absence. The deeper I delved into this realization, the more closely I could make sense of the core structure of civilization and societal living. We may or may not want to live in a society, but we certainly need to live in a society. Tortuous as it may be to the anti-socials, our survival is connected with our societies.
Being anti-social isn’t depressing or lonely, if you do it right. I am thoroughly proud of being able to enjoy my own company. Narcissistic, that may sound, but its an art very few have wholly mastered. But being anti-social is also a privilege that can be afforded only if you are obscenely rich and don’t need to engage with the society because you can simply purchase everything you want (unlike me) or if you are so bloody popular that even when you don’t interact with the society, your people never forget you (unlike me) or if you have been lucky enough to inherit the love and care and attention of your society that your family has earned over the years (like me).
If you too, are like me, then I propose we try an interesting social experiment from tomorrow:
Instead of looking elsewhere all the time, if we bump into our neighbours in the lift or in the parking lot, we will say hi. Nothing more, we don’t want to freak them out or get freaked out.
We could probably ask them their dog’s name too. And who knows, perhaps an year later we could be asking them their name too!