I love my alone time. I love the escape from deadlines, complaints, to do lists, and trying to make small talk. I like being alone, isolated from the thronging demands of life. The irony of this moment is that while I write these words my two year old daughter is behind me tucked between me and my chair drawing on my back with her finger singing about how much she likes water, pausing occasionally to lean up over my shoulder and see what I’m doing and to ask me to draw her a picture. Not exactly “alone time”. But there’s a vast difference between isolated alone time and the isolation that destroys people, relationships, and businesses. This destructive kind of isolation can be found in even the busiest of people.
“Isolation comes in many forms and most don’t even realize how isolated they are until it’s too late”
Isolation can take many appearances; from the individual who lashes out at those who offer any form of criticism to the leader seeking to surround him or her self with “yes men” to the person far to busy to truly interact with anyone. While not exhaustive, each of these people may not be isolated in the sense of being totally alone but they have strategically isolated certain parts of themselves from outside influences. Generally speaking people excuse their isolation with claims of desiring consistency, authenticity, or preservation. The perceived safety of isolation distracts from it’s destructive nature. The danger in isolation, even selective isolation, is that it skews reality.
“Destructive isolation can be found in even the busiest of people”
Any environment in which there is only one source of influence or one provider of truth has the potential to distort reality and be destructive. The destructive nature of an inaccurate reality born out of isolation is perhaps most visible when we look at cults or peoples living in a compound with one leader as the sole source of it’s influence and “truth”. Unfortunately, isolation in our own lives is not nearly as obvious. Far too often I witness homes in which a spouse or a parent’s anger creates a “protective” barrier around a family consequently isolating that family from healthy external influences. The spouses and children of angry or even violent people are forced to live within the skewed reality the isolated person has created. Isolated leaders often use guilt instead of anger as their method of corralling followers. Failure to grow or attract new followers is credited to the weaknesses or ignorance of non-followers. The unchallenged concepts of a leader, spouse, or family member can rapidly become absolute truth to the isolated regardless of whether or not they are right. The longer skewed realities are allowed to go unchallenged the more fiercely the isolated defend those “truths” they have built their lives around.
On a personal note I have noticed my own tendency for isolation when I get so busy running from one task to another that in my overexposure to tasks I end up isolating myself. Busyness, for me, has become the most common way to create isolation. If I stay busy, I stay distracted and I’m never in one place long enough to see the full impact of myself on that environment. As a result I can live in a skewed reality in which I believe that I’m more productive, successful, pleasant to work with, easy to work for than I really am. When what has actually happened is that I’ve not allowed myself to be present for critique because I’m off to the next task or project never allowing the previous environment to fully impact me. In this manner success can isolate by inviting the successful to ignore the things that didn’t facilitate success. Instead of becoming aware of the things needing change for growth, we can ignore/isolate from them and subtly focus only on the qualities that brought accomplishment.
Do I welcome critique or seek to discredit contrary sources?
As I have written this post I realize that even my own children are isolated to a certain extent when it comes to their beliefs about me, their father. Right now I am the “strongest bestest” dad who can fix anything. It won’t be until my children are well into their teens that they realize their dad can’t do everything and that my influence on this world is frighteningly small. If I do a good job with my kids they will not refuse to accept this truth but will accept the true reality in which they live: that their dad, while awesome, has limits and doesn’t know everything.
Isolation comes in many forms and most don’t even realize how isolated they are until it’s too late. Hopefully an awareness of the potential negative effects of isolation will allow people to accept their faults and be willing to be changed by external authorities instead of defending their narrow-mindedness with anger and guilt. Am I open to genuine feedback or am I personally offended when someone points out the error of my ways? Do I welcome the advice of others or cringe at their suggestions and mentally discredit their perspective in order to maintain my own skewed reality? My honest answer to these questions might just reveal an isolated environment of my life.