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When Was the Last Time You Were Alone?

Junior Declamation:

When Was the Last Time You Were Alone?
By Kelsey Janik

The dry summer dust on the road is soft on my bare feet, and the glaring sunlight gives everything an aura of over-exposure. When I finally reach the shade of the trees, my face aches from nearly an hour of subconscious squinting. I leave the roadside and walk a short way into the woods to a stream that runs towards the river at the bottom of the mountain. In one of the deeper pools I walk out knee deep into the cold water, digging my toes into the mud and watching the water-striders shoot across the surface and crowd under the opposite bank. I am intensely aware of the cold, living-and-mineral water and the pushing current. I am going to enjoy this day with no company but the water striders.

When was the last time you were alone? When was the last time you spent most of a weekend, or even a day or a couple hours, entirely by yourself, without a companion, a computer, or a phone by your side? Did you do so voluntarily, for your own pleasure? In this day of “bathroom buddies” and stream of consciousness text-messaging, my guess is it was a long time ago.

A group of students sit at a table during walk-through. A girl stands up: “Come up to get salad with me” she asks her friend next to her, pulling her out of her seat. Poor girl. She can’t walk twenty feet to the salad bar by herself. Earlier that day, another girl from down the hall had knocked on her door: “Are you wearing boots today? I’m not sure whether to wear boots or flats—will you wear boots with me? I just don’t want to be the only one.”

Here you have it: the future leaders of America. They can’t even decide what to wear without help and the assurance that someone else will wear the same thing with them. Some of them can’t sit alone at a table. What are they afraid of? They are giving up their ability to think and act independently, and as much lip service as ‘independence’ gets in the educational world, here at Deerfield we often have an incentive to depend on others. Isn’t it often easier to discuss homework as a group, or to have a difficult concept spoon-fed to you by a teacher rather than to figure it out by yourself? Study groups and extra help have their place, but many students find that when test-day comes and they have only themselves to depend on, they are unprepared to succeed alone. What will happen, then, when they have to face the real world? How is someone who can’t walk to the salad bar without company going to manage going to a supermarket?

This isn’t just Deerfield’s problem; everywhere I have gone in America, people my age and younger exhibit a degree of dependency, a constant need for companionship, contact with friends, assistance, and social approval. So the question is: Are these the sort of people to whom America is passing? Those who have never learned how to manage when they have to trust and depend on themselves?

The truth is, this isn’t just a question of going on a long walks on the weekends. Developing the self-confidence and sense of self-worth necessary to be a good companion to oneself is a way towards something more important: Learning how to survive independently. We will all have times in our lives when there is no one to help us, no one who understands, or no one who cares. In those times, we are all we can depend on. In preparation for those days, let us learn to trust in the one who is, after all, closest to us, and let us learn our own powers and limits; they are higher than you might think. In order to do so, we must enter situations that make us uncomfortable. So sit alone at lunch, wear a sweater that your friend thinks is tacky, and skip the history study group tonight. Can’t handle it? Maybe you can convince your friend to do it too…

2 Comments on When Was the Last Time You Were Alone?

  1. Willem Molenaar // February 25, 2010 at 11:57 am // Reply

    It seems to me that dependence on others is not a new thing; communities long ago were closely knit and people depended on each other for survival. For example the miller depended on the surrounding farmers for the grain, and the women depended on both the miller and the farmer for the flour to bake their bread. My dad tells me people also got together more with activities like playing cards in the evenings. Videogames have replaced cards in most circles, but they don’t require as much thinking or interaction, and people are more separated when they play them compared to when they play cards. Videogames also seem to mirror a more hectic life. My great-grandparents used to get together on quiet evenings with friends to play cards. Those people you mentioned, I can only guess, are not seeking others’ company in the former, more levelheaded way, but in an almost insecure or anxious way. Not having many quiet evenings doesn’t help that. To those people’s credit though, sometimes it is nice to walk with someone somewhere. People also used to take walks.
    And about doing homework together: I don’t get the sense people rely on others for homework. Actually, I have heard often that people think it can slow them down or complicate things working in a group. But it is good to work with others and hear what they think. That will be important to anyone moving into the world, leading it or not. Moderation is the key, which is what it seems you are suggesting.

    • Kelsey Janik // February 25, 2010 at 9:43 pm // Reply

      While dependence and interconnectedness are obviously as old as society itself, I find that today, many people (although certainly not all) have an “insecure” and “anxious” EMOTIONAL dependency on other people unrelated to the dependency that exists between the farmer and the miller, to use your example. The farmer may well not have the time, free labor, or access to facilities to grind his own flour, while the miller’s grindstone is useless without the farmer’s business. The farmer and the miller benefit mutually from their dependent relationship, which allows each to survive where they would be unsuccessful on their own. By contrast, the students who think that they need to do homework together (and they do exist) CAN probably do the assignment by themselves (teachers usually assign work with this presumption), but they do not want to, perhaps out of insecurity in their ability or anxiety at being held solely responsible if they fail. Similarly, if someone “needs” company to walk to a salad bar, it is an irrational emotional “need” resulting from some sort of anxiety at being alone at a salad bar, which seems to me to be more than a little ridiculous. These sorts of dependencies hardly seem helpful in the long run, and can be harmful. I am simply encouraging people to examine their own lives for these hindrances, and to consider modifying their behaviors and thought processes in order lessen them.
      Moderation,of course,IS key. I am not suggesting that any person should live entirely alone and independently. The ability to cooperate and get along with other people is just as important in a well-adjusted individual as the ability to be self-reliant when necessary.

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