socialization / stuff that makes me think

maya angelou on teaching our children solitude

Our North American culture teaches us to love public attention, and naturally, our ego enjoys it. It teaches us that extroversion is favourable, even necessary and healthy. It teaches us that constant activity equals importance, value and purpose. So we keep busy, and tell ourselves that what we do is extra-specially important. We search for meaning outside of ourselves, in crowds of others. We little understand solitude, and hardly know its benefit. We certainly don’t think to teach it to our children.

In the biblical story, the prodigal son risked, and for a time, lost everything he had because of an uncontrollable hunger for company. First he asked for and received his inheritance, not caring that his father, from whom he would normally inherit, was still alive; not considering that by demanding his portion, he might be endangering the family’s financial position. The parable relates that after he took his fortune, he went off into a far country and there he found company. Wasteful living conquered his loneliness and riotous companions, conquered his restlessness. For a while he was fulfilled, but he lost favour in the eyes of his friends. As his money began to disappear, he began to slip down that steep road to social oblivion.

His condition became so reduced that he began to have to feed the hogs. Then it further worsened until he began to eat with the hogs. It is never lonesome in Babylon. Of course, one needs to examine who–or in the prodigal son’s case, what–he has for company. It reminds me of the journey of the prodigal son. Many believe that they need company at any cost, and certainly if a thing is desired at any cost, then it will be obtained at any cost.

We need to remember and to teach our children that solitude can be a much-to-be-desired condition. Not only is it acceptable to be alone, at times it is positively to be wished for.

It is in the interludes between being in company that we talk to ourselves. In the silence, we listen to ourselves. Then we ask questions of ourselves. We describe ourselves to ourselves, and in the quietude we may even hear the voice of God.”

From Maya Angelou’s book, Even the Stars Look Lonesome

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