This is an excerpt from a piece on Substack proposes a series of affirmations to recapture the joy and beauty of life in 2022.
The Right to Company
Gathering is as old as humanity itself. Ancient humans sat around the fire and as civilisation developed, the need to be with others persisted. I am put in mind of the powerful depictions of the Anglo-Saxon hall seen from the darkness outside, a beacon of light and conviviality, in the Old English poetry I read at university. And I know all too well the overwhelming relief of the solitary walker or lost driver at seeing the lights of an approaching village or town. Other humans! It’s a need so deeply rooted that it’s impossible to separate the psychological from the biological.
The need for human company, how often, and what form it takes, varies hugely from person to person, and at different times within the life of the same person. But it is not something that we can do without, nor is it wise to construct a society which gives the state the power to take it away. There is a reason why solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments humans can inflict on one other.
The exception is the hermit. I’ve long been fascinated by religious solitaries and have interviewed a few. But the point about eremetic isolation is that it’s voluntary, undertaken for specific, spiritual reasons, and supported by a wider community in the form of a religious institution. And because of the power of even self-imposed isolation to cause distress, those doing short spiritual retreats get regular check-ups to see that they are coping alone.
In 2022, I re-affirm humans’ fundamental need to be in the company of others.
The Right to Nature
In Britain’s first-ever lockdown, I lost the right to be in nature. I say ‘to be’ because, while I love walking, it’s long been my habit to spend time just sitting outside, preferably on the ground under a tree. I’ve never felt the need to explain it, but I know it’s something shared by many nature-lovers, a kind of communion that falls somewhere between…