Monday, February 23, 2009

Solitude and Society

I have no trouble keeping friendships and church commitments and schoolwork at a high priority. If someone needs to talk to me, I always choose to be there for them. If I have an assignment for class, I get it done. I don't skip church to get homework done. These are things I care about, and I balance them against each other decently. But I am realizing that I don't balance them well against my need for solitude and silence, for reflection and writing time.

How do I tell someone I don't have time to talk to them because I need to write a poem, not for class but just. . . for myself? How do I tell someone I don't want to eat lunch with them because I just want to be alone? Actively choosing solitude over companionship is not socially acceptable.

The study of linguistic politeness uses the concepts of positive and negative face to analyze social interactions. Face is a person's public image. Positive face wants are the desires for approval, connection, acceptance, admiration--in short, connection. Negative face wants are desires for autonomy and independence: just to be left alone. We all have both sorts of face wants. But my desire for negative face (identity-preserving distance) is stronger than my innate desire for positive face (identity-shaping connection). Meanwhile, society says to prioritize positive face, and disregard my own negative face. Thus, I cannot preserve my negative face to the degree I need without severely damaging the positive face of whoever invited me to spend time with them.

But I need to learn how to choose solitude even when it means actively rejecting company. Surely there is a way to choose solitude without being rude. God help me. I don't know how to deal with people.

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