I want to be alone

apple-and-snake_1280x1024_2988So you’re in the Garden of Eden, right, and you’re watching the drama of Adam and Eve unfold, with the talking snake and the scrumping of apples. There’s something very strange. The snake talks to the woman who seems to be alone. The big question is: where is the man? We’re told that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, surgery having been performed while yer man was asleep. Biologists have recently managed to grow rudimentary teeth from cells in human urine, so I suppose the woman-from-rib story has something going for it even if cell biology labs in the Garden of Eden weren’t like the ones we have now. A different version of the story from Hebrew literature goes like this: when the Holy One created Adam, the creature had a female aspect facing one way and a male aspect facing the other. The Holy One then sawed the creature in half giving the (now two) creatures a back for one part and a back for the other. So both man and woman were created from a hermaphrodite first creation. Now, that’s more likely, isn’t it? It explains why men and women see things differently—they look in opposite directions, the push-me-pull-you. Anyhow, back to the question: where was Adam? Well, it’s universally acknowledged that men make more fuss of being ill than women, so he was probably taking longer to recover from major surgery than Eve, thus unable to engage in intercourse with the snake. On the other hand—and I think this much the more likely explanation—he was where any self-respecting man would be: hiding from the missus in his garden shed.

Up to now, gentle reader, you might think I’m taking the micturition (though the Hebrew commentary story is authentic). But I have a serious point to make, and it’s this. We all need time alone, and men in particular do. As we get older, we need our solitude more and more. It’s an unfortunate fact that in today’s world success is judged by ‘outgoingness’ and extraversion. The go-getters and self-publicists are rewarded, and the more retiring folk are not. We are required by economic demands to join in the culture of back-slapping hail-fellow-well-met seminars and team exercises and confrontational ‘discussions’ at meetings where testosterone wins. For many of us, this is a real effort. For those of us whose energy comes not from company but from solitude, it’s exhausting to play at being an extravert for any length of time. After a while we long to back home with a book or listening to music or whatever. In my case, my groove on the sofa sings a siren song.

I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be left alone.'

I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be left alone.’

The terms extravert and introvert are used for, respectively, those whose energy comes from interaction with others, and those whose energy comes from rich inner resources. Many of us who seem to be extraverts are actually introverts who have learnt to put on an act as required. And I’m pretty sure that there are more introvert men than is commonly thought.

In my former career, I was disturbed to find important decisions being forced at the meetings at which the issue had first been raised, thus without considered reflection. The idea that we might defer decision until we’d had time to think about the issue was derided as indicating a lack of purpose and courage and commitment. People in power tend to be extraverts—after all, they do better at interview, are better at selling themselves, and are more likely to charm interviewers. And so the cycle perpetuates itself.

A new book Quiet by Susan Cain explores this issue. The author points out that the world needs introverts. We need people who say ‘just hold on a minute, we must think about this’. We need people who don’t just rush into decisions without considering implications.

Our culture makes it easier, I think, for women to recharge than for men. Boys and men who like to be alone, who have solitary pursuits, are looked upon strangely. They are urged to ‘come out of their shell’, to ‘pull up their socks’, to ‘stop shilly-shallying’, to be more like your cousin ‘who climbed Everest when he was six’. This displays more than a little intolerance. It’s not easy for anyone, let alone a child, to say ‘this is me, you will have to accept that I’m not the person you’d like me to be—I am as I am.’

As Susan Cain says, it’s time that we acknowledged the value of introverts. Without them we would have no theories of gravity and relativity, a good deal less technological innovation, and next to no music, art and literature. With more of them I suspect we’d have had far fewer disasters caused by impulsive risk-taking.

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