In the 70s or perhaps 80s, the saying was don’t let your kids watch TV till they have learned to read. I added in the 90s don’t let your kids get a computer till they have learned to think. I now add don’t let them get a cell phone till they have learned to be alone.
I know; I know. In the name of safety, efficiency, and practicality there are a dozen reasons that every kid outside the house needs a cell phone, but let’s not forget all that goes along with that phone. He gets 24/7 peer pressure. He gets the constant comfort of the collective, the group, the hive. Having a cell phone gives a whole new spin to Timothy Leary’s “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Turn on the cell phone; tune in to the constant stream of consciousness of the world, and drop out of home, school, church into the realm of cyberspace where tweets by twits rule. Sartre thought people are hell; I know they aren’t, but they can be a drug.
“Alone Again Naturally” is a 1972 Gilbert and Sullivan song. “Solitary Man” is a 1966 Neil Diamond son and “I am a Rock” is a 1965 Simon and Garfunkel song. All of these make my top 500 songs. While the first bemoans a state of solitude, the next two celebrate it, but in a painful way. That’s because God didn’t make us for that state. He’s the one who said, “It’s not good that the man should be alone.”
However, it must be noted that Moses, Elijah, Paul, and Jesus all spent time alone in the desert. True, it’s not good that a man should always be alone, but it’s not good when he is never alone and worse still when he can’t be alone. The millennial generation is the first, at least in America, that has the reaction to not being around people that former generations had to being around too many people for too long. They get jumpy, depressed, stressed.
There is a pendulum here. I’m not advocating swinging to isolation. When we listen to Neil, Paul, and Art we know Neil is not really glad that he’s a solitary man and Paul and Art aren’t a rock let alone an island. I’m certainly not wishing to swing all the way to Timion of Athens who was known for his hatred of men and desire to be left alone. Shakespeare’s play has his self-authored epitaph but it’s different than the one in Plutarch’s Lives of the Nobel Romans which reads as follows:
“Timion, the misanthrope, am I below. / Go, and revile me, traveler, only go” (328).
No, Christians don’t want to raise haters, but we do want them to be able to stand on their own and alone if necessary for the sake of confessing the truth. Children are to be raised with the knowledge that their touchstone that tells them everything is okay is not the group, the herd, the collective, the hive. Their link to that can be interrupted and it is not an indication that anything at all is wrong. The link that can’t be even interrupted is the vertical one between them and God. We live, move, and have our being in Him not the group. Everything is from Him, to Him, and through Him not others.
Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city,” and Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” both address the controlling of one’s self. That is learned both in the company of others and in solitude. One thing is for sure though, if you can’t stand to be alone with yourself, you won’t have much success in controlling the self.