Jean-Paul Sartre, a French existential philosopher, wrote that “Hell is other people.”  From what little I understand of his thinking, what he actually meant by that is quite complex although the gist of it seems fairly simple to grasp.  It’s that idea I sometimes hear, particularly from people who like to think of themselves as ‘lone wolves,’ the idea that life would be far superior were they to be alone without a requirement to deal with other people, particularly their demands and needs.

As the careful reader may have inferred from my writings this isn’t a position that I happen to agree with.  Sure, people can cause no end of misery to one another and I am quite certain that in my future work as a counsellor I will spend many hours walking alongside people in profound pain due to their experiences with others.  But this does not mean we’d all be better off alone.

Interestingly there is an increasing amount of evidence to show the links between certain types of mental illness and social isolation.  Learning is understood to be a fundamentally social activity.  We need one another.  In their work The Complexity of Connection, Jordan, Walker and Hartling write (on page 2): “…connection is at the core of human growth and development. Isolation is seen as the primary source of human suffering.  We believe that human beings grow through and towards connection.”

I have had a beautifully personal experience of that today.  I was in a bit of a ‘funk’, feeling a bit blue, a bit grumpy for no reason that I could fathom.  And then I went to teach my women’s group, and by the time I’d been there 10 minutes I felt all better.  After class finished I had a cup of tea with some of them outside in the garden and we chatted.  I felt all happy; the funk had been completely dispelled.

Community is a powerful thing, it has its good parts and its bad, but for humanity it is an entirely necessary thing.  I’m really going to miss teaching and spending time with those wonderful women when my sessions there come to a end.

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