This post is inspired by a great article I read recently called “Solitude and Leadership” published in the American Scholar, which recites a lecture delivered by a Yale professor at the American Military Academy at West Point. It brought out a lot of thoughts and emotions I always felt or wanted to say but didn’t. We live in a world where social ‘norms’ define our lives more and more every day. Advocating solitude or wanting to be alone goes against the grain of modern society. Its almost heresy.
Yet what this article reminds us is of its profound importance. We are constantly diffused more and more by the ever increasing connectivity to other people, the constant messaging, emailing, facebooking, tweeting, bbm-ing, and everything else-ing… we blend with the rest, we loose our personality. We become victims of the herd mentality. We stop imagining. We don’t stand out. And we don’t cherish Gods greatest gift: the ability to use our brain, to think in solitude deep and hard, to concentrate on things that matter, uninterrupted, without worrying who’s liked our latest Facebook upload or what the latest covers story in New York times is.
I was always a bit of a loner, never liked blending into big groups. My greatest moments are spent in silence, often looking at the ceiling when I wake up, reflecting, introspecting, thinking about my day or week ahead, the year that’s past, what I’ve done and what I haven’t; what I want to do, what relationships I cherish the most, what values I look for in life and why. Why they truly matter. Intelligence is far overrated. Its the ability to use our brain in deep uninterrupted thought that leads to novel fresh thinking; to the type of thinking that creates step change, both in ourselves and in the things we lead and the people around us. That unleashes our imagination.
What the lecturer of Solitude and Leadership puts so eloquently is how few and rare great leaders we have, who think for themselves and take decisions not because “that’s what everyone else does” but because they’ve thought it through and that’s what makes sense to them. The world needs less “me too” people and more people who have an opinion – a genuine and novel, original opinion – that reflects their values and one they’ve thought through. And who then have the courage to communicate it with confidence and see it through. However unconventional its seen and with however much resistance they’re met.
The same goes in daily life as in business or the military. Everyone is a leader in their daily life, we all have people who follow us be it a sibling, an employee, a spouse, a neighbor. We would lead so much better in solitude , if we embraced our ability to reflect, imagine, think and act on that thinking. We would all be more individual and more true to ourselves
I’ve always felt and said that the construct of society is such that it prepares us to fail in this. We are brought up and taught as kids that we ought to be liked and like others, be with others, blend in groups; be popular at school, have no one disagree with us, create as little turmoil or unrest as possible. We are taught to be ‘normal’. What does this lead to? Non-descript people who just maintain the status quo – at best; bureaucrats, people who just hold the ropes and tag along in life. In the grander scheme of things it would matter little had they never set foot on Earth. They change nothing. They do nothing. They just blend in.
Society should encourage kids to be mavericks, to be different, to be creative and original in their thinking, to be rebellious (peacefully), to think for themselves, to be passionate about their beliefs. To love but to also to hate. If all you do is love you are opinion-less. If you like and you are liked by everyone you are a chameleon. You are a hypocrite and a liar. Your originality and personality is diffused in the masses. In the very least, society should embrace and be grateful for people who have the courage and audacity to be different.
And leave them the hell alone!