“…by silent solitary reflection we exercise and strengthen all the powers of the mind. The many obstacles which render it difficult to pursue our path disperse and retire, and we return to a busy social life with more cheerfulness and content. The sphere of our understanding becomes enlarged by reflection ; we have learned to survey more objects, and to bind them intellectually together; we carry a clearer sight, a juster judgment, and firmer principles, with us into the world in which we arc to live and act ; and are then more able, even in the midst of all its distractions, to preserve our attention, to think with accuracy, to determine with judgment, in a degree proportioned to the preparations we have made in the hour of retirement.” – from Solitude by J.G. Zimmerman
There exists a deficit in the bustling cities among the constant noise of entertainment, information, and interactions streaming into our lives. In the middle of the richness of our technological age that connects people together, it has become increasingly difficult to find quiet places of self reflection. In the early 19th century, J.G. Zimmerman referred to this as simply “Solitude.” Solitude doesn’t imply the necessity of going to a remote location hundreds of miles away from society. It can simply be the moments and places where we’re able to disconnect from distractions enough to meditate on our thoughts.
Many people are uncomfortable with their own thoughts and constantly fill their time with music, entertainment, or any other noise available. Some even leave their TV’s on at night to avoid the silence that leaves us stranded to our own thoughts. There can be an unhealthy avoidance of solitude, but the truth is that solitude is necessary to properly learn how to confront the events and circumstances in our lives and understand how we relate to them.
The slight discomfort of putting effort into our own thinking is what develops our character. It’s much easier to consume information than to sort it out in our own minds because it takes the least amount of effort to consume it. It’s human nature to want to default to thinking that is effortlessness. Watching a movie relaxes us because we’re taking in everything that’s being presented to us without much mental effort on our part. However, reading a book about a new concept or idea will take more mental effort as we don’t have previous knowledge to default to – we instead must create new neurological pathways and put effort into our thinking.
Our modern society is filled with distractions. Distractions that tranquilize the mind like a drug and keep us from a place of solitude where we might develop our own personal opinions, critical thoughts, and understanding. There is a monopoly on the cultural narrative that creates the boundaries of discussion. People tune in to the ever-changing topics. They look to their peers for social validation of their opinions and regurgitate those ideas that earn them acceptance and a sense of belonging.
Only in solitude can we truly make an acquaintance with our own thoughts and hash out our own understanding of the world around us. Then we must bring this understanding to others and share our thoughts an ideas, allowing ourselves to sharpen and be sharpened by others in discussion. The purpose of discussion is to allow yourself to learn something new – to both challenge and be challenged, not simply convince and persuade.
Another important reality is that the general public consensus of an opinion isn’t intrinsically truth. At any point in a society the public will generally by majority accept certain beliefs and views over others. Any confident thinker will recognize that this doesn’t determine that such a consensus is the truth, it simply reflects what the majority public believes at the time. Individuals ought to think for themselves even when it’s in contrast with the public opinion. At the same time, it’s important to not remain unchallenged and be open to considering others’ views.
Don’t be another mouthpiece of regurgitation in society, repeating what you’ve heard as though it’s gospel, yet never challenging a thought for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be exploited through emotional persuasions. Challenge ideas and learn which ones you truly believe with an unshaken conviction. Remember to take a break from all of the distractions and embrace solitude.
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