Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Defining Moment

Among my treasures is a yellowed newspaper article (so old, stores would still close on Sundays) by Sydney J. Harris about conviviality versus privacy which I reproduce verbatim here. I think this defines some of my (a-)socializing quite well:

Convivial soul must mingle; the private person retreats

Speaking of admitting women to men's clubs, as I was the other day, reminded me that the worst thing that Samuel Johnson could think of saying against Sir John Hawkins was that he was "a very unclubable man."

For a long time, as I was going along in the world, it surprised me to learn how many men actually resent someone who is not as "clubable" as they think he ought to be.

Such a person is often wrongly called a "loner," when he is not a loner at all, but simply prefers a small circle of close friends to a large, sweaty aggregation of casually jovial strangers or acquaintances.

Those who try to keep their personal and professional lives separate (and I must confess to being one of these) always run the risk that their preference for privacy will be interpreted as a secret sense of superiority, as considering themselves too good to mingle with the common herd.

In my social experience, this accusation is generally not borne out. Most of the men I have known who kept largely to themselves did so not because they were "aloof" or felt superior in any way, but simply as a matter of temperament - they enjoyed their family and a few friends, and pursued their quiet ways without the slightest notion that they were evoking resentment from anyone for their reclusive habits.

Conviviality is a pleasant trait if one happens to possess it, but not all do, or care to. It can also serve, I suggest, as a substitute for genuinely deep attachments or permanent connections. I have long suspected that the people who seem to like everybody don't like anybody very much and require extended social contacts in order to fill a felt vacuum in their personal lives - but this may only be my own distorted view of human relationships.

What is interesting, and perplexing, is the almost inevitable assumption made by "clubable" people that those who shun their company do so for despicable reasons of pride or exclusivity or social or intellectual pretentiousness, when in almost all cases it has little or nothing to do with them, but is simply a lifestyle.

I suppose it is only natural that we do not like people who do not seem to like us, but evidence that they do not like us should be based on something more tangible than a preference for privacy. Another person's reclusiveness is not so much a judgment upon us as a verdict on his own capacities and limitations in socializing.

At another defining moment almost twenty years ago, a very wonderful woman entered my life. As I might have stated for someone else within a different blog entry, she provided paths that would never have been traveled otherwise. For these, I am humbled and grateful. Upon your wanderings peace, my friend...

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