Perhaps the whole world doesn’t revolve around me, me, me. Confessional or ego-centric poetry is much in vogue. Granted we filter our experiences through our own lenses. Yet sometimes, we can sublimate that experience and see it reflected in someone else’s experience.
Though isolation is growing exponentially in our society, but isn’t that our fault? Aren’t we letting the corporate culture dictate our humanity? We’re encouraged to remain aloof, or at least project a disinterested image in public, wrapped up in our newspapers, or apps. For fear of being rejected if we were to reach out to any random stranger. At work we’re like pegs in isolated cubicles, at the bottom of the pyramid. Blue or white collar slaves, chipping away to build the blue chip piles of those at the top. Content to remain in our fridge-like boxes.
Afraid to reach out, to smile, strike up a conversation, to seem needy. Better not destroy the mystery of who you are, or how much power you have. Image is everything.
Yet in the pre-industrialized world, the word ‘community’ actually means something. Now it’s all about the individual. Whatever happened to united we’re strong, divided we fall? Now we’re increasingly being divided like so many pie-charts. And we’re happy to be coincé, or stuck in our own little boxes. Interestingly enough, the work-place or the office is called boîte or box in French Is it any wonder we’re isolated? We’ve been led to believe through countless ads that materialism is the key to success. We’re constantly bombarded with images of objects that we’re almost dictated to accumulate. That will give us satisfaction.
However, there’s a flaw in that argument. If we were somehow to be satisfied with Object X, then why would we constantly need more of it? But this is never discussed in the mainstream media. Regardless, we’re happy to hang onto whatever material possessions we’ve managed to accumulate, and don’t see the need to share anything. Perhaps rightfully so, as we’d first have to find others who’d share material or immaterial goods to the same extent.
So if we’re too scared to share, can we complain about being isolated? Of course, what we’re really whining about is not the lack of human companionship, but perhaps something that would satisfy the soul. However, that is a very old-fashioned concept. It’s not something that can be sold, or controlled, or even quantified. So the soul is not supposed to exist according to ‘scientists.’ But what are scientists? Human beings who measure everything according to their ordinary human senses. With the aid of instruments built by said humans. So it’s supposed that nothing exists in this vast universe, except what can be measured in human terms. At our frequency of perception. Even though x-rays and micro-waves have existed since the beginning of the universe. But guess what, we puny humans invented it. Even if we discovered it, we’re great, cause now we’ve found a new way to harm the human body.
Strangely enough, in pre-industrialized or societies with a lower degree of industrialization, social conviviality is higher. Regarded as the ‘Third World’ by those living in Europe or America, we’re told that life is very hard there. While this is true in the material sense of the word, even those living below the poverty lines (as defined in those countries) have richer social connections than in the Occident. While the State doesn’t do much to help those under the poverty line in ‘Third World’ countries, there’s almost a moral and ethical obligation for those better off to help the under-privileged in their community. Everybody chips in to help out the destitute in times of need. Hundreds of people are invited to marriages, and funerals, even if budgets are limited, as the whole community pools together to pay for meals etc.
Whereas in the Occident, the numbers tend to be a lot fewer, as having a high class event seems to be more important, than inviting all the people one knows, specially people of low financial or social worth to these events. The social selection is far more rigorous than in the Orient, or in indigenous societies. For example, unlike in cooler lands, in warmer countries it’s unheard of that someone would lie dead in their flat for days before anyone would notice their absence. And that too, only because of the smell. Even strangers on trains and buses in the East are more helpful than neighbours in some ‘colder’ countries.
In the Occident, being serviceable to others denotes that the person offering their services is lower in the social ladder than the one benefiting by said help. However, due to a different philosophy, coming to the aid of others is seen as good ‘karma,’ and is in the social fabric of certain cultures. This means that help is often reciprocated, and the tissue of society as a whole is stronger. However, with increasing ‘progress’ and industrializations of these ‘Third World’ countries, workers at the middle and higher management levels are already emulating their superiors in the sense that they’re limiting human contact to just the minimum, with emotions rarely being displayed in public.
People are encouraged to be neutral, like machines, and not to even hint at the fact that they have feelings at the work-place. While professionalism is to be encouraged, what about the human aspect of the workers? Suppressed emotions can play havoc with the psyche of the person in question. Hence the billions of dollars spent on anti-depressants, counselling, etc.
Though many sophisticated ways have been found to measure ‘value’ in the work-place, what about the worth given to the whole individual, and not just to their performative abilities? On the one hand, employees see a lot of papers and e-mails on ‘work/life balance,’ yet in practice they often have to pull more than 40 hours a week, without pay if they want a promotion, or simple brownie points with their demanding bosses. The relentless pressure to keep excelling at selling comes from the top. While corporations go on at length about customer satisfaction, what about the mental, emotional and psychological satisfaction linked to their jobs of their own employees? Don’t these factors count?
But since we can’t sell the soul, let’s kick it in a hidden drawer. If we can ever ‘measure’ it, and then hawk something related to it, then we’ll deal with it. In the meantime, millions don’t quite know why they’re suffering. They call it loneliness. They create songs, and films, and stories about it. That helps for a while, but then the emptiness comes flowing back in. Of course, many just fill up all their time listening to music, or radio chatter. They eat, drink, splurge. Play games furiously. Watch games being played furiously. Anything to fill up the time. Anything to stave off that emptiness.
Yet, perhaps all they have to do, is to switch off all that white noise. Cut down on the consumption bit. Go down in the cellar of their psyche, and start cleaning it with the help of a therapist. And start connecting with their inner core. With their own wishes. Not with the values and expectations imposed on them by the rat race society. With nature, with real people, who actually say what they mean. And that is the scariest journey of them all.
For the sensitive person, a few minutes a day communing with oneself, or with nature can hold untold benefits. Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditative exercises, rhythmic movement, indulging in creative ventures can help one connect to one’s inner core. Where peace is always to be found, if one can reach that point of stillness within.
(Sultana Raza’s 100+ articles have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, and her poems in 25+ journals, and some can be read at https://www.facebook.com/sultana.raza.7)
The Beautiful Space-