This episode of The Conversation’s In Depth Out Loud podcast, features the work of Professor David Vincent, historian at The Open University. He has spent the last few years looking into how people in the past managed to balance community ties and solitary behaviours. With the coronavirus crisis forcing many to self-isolate and limiting our sociability, this has never seemed more relevant.
Solitude used to be restricted to enclosed religious orders and was a privileged experience of a male elite. It was treated with a mixture of fear and respect. Change was only set in motion by the Reformation and the Enlightenment, when new ideologies took hold and solitude slowly became something that anyone could acceptably seek from time to time. Most people in the West are now used to some regular form of solitude – but the reality of lockdown makes this experience far more extreme.
The history of solitude has lessons for us in differentiating between being alone and feeling lonely. Similarly, it offers lessons for navigating the fragile boundary between life-enhancing and soul-destroying forms of solitary behaviour.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.