Isolation Won’t Help

I keep running across a particular narrative online, and occasionally in person:

“There are bad things in the world. Isolate yourself to avoid harm!”

“Other people don’t agree with you. Isolate yourself to avoid being tainted by them!”

“Anything unapproved of is a waste of time. Isolate yourself to focus on what matters!”

“You’re too sensitive. Isolate yourself and get out of our way!”

“You lack social skills. Isolate yourself to avoid hurting people!”

“Something is wrong. Isolate yourself!”

STOP.

Isolation is toxic. It is literally maddening. We are social animals. Granted, not everyone is equally social, but even introverts aren’t better off being totally isolated. Avoiding perspectives other than our own undermines our empathy, which is a necessary component of compassion. Isolation certainly doesn’t help people become less sensitive or more socially skilled, but I would hope that’s obvious. Basically, isolation can transform even the kindest, sanest, most cheerful person into a suicidal depressed, possibly even delusional, misanthropic asshole.

Just about everything humanity has accomplished for good (and, yes, also for ill) since well before recorded history has been a product of collaboration and social interaction.  Even the mistakes are part of our growth, individually and socially. Good judgement comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgement, eh? One of the great benefits of being human is having the ability to learn from history, the ability to acquire good judgement from other people’s experience.

There’s a reason abusers isolate their victims. It’s much, much easier to gaslight them, because lack of a reality check makes it much, much harder to question the abuser’s lies. Without other human beings to interact with, we quickly lose touch with what is real and what is our fears or egotistical delusions of grandeur shouting in our heads.

I get it that some people are actually really well suited to monastic practice, but that’s comparatively rare, and even then, most monks are traditionally located with other monks in a monastery if they aren’t out in the world helping people, not isolated from all of humanity. If nothing else, the choice to be totally cloistered loses its meaning if everyone is called to isolate like that. It’s true that temporary isolation can be very cleansing. That’s the whole point of spiritual retreats. It can help clear our heads, help us let go of a lot of stress, by taking a while to be out from under the direct pressures of our everyday lives. But that only works because the isolation isn’t our everyday lives, and again, they’re usually not isolation, so much as a shift in social context. Hence “a change is as good as a rest.”

Some people are forced to be isolated by their circumstances. The goal there is to get them out of that isolation. This is the point of awareness campaigns: end the silence = end the isolation. And yeah, sometimes the isolation is because they’re immunocompromised or have complex allergies, or some other debilitating chronic illness, and they really have no choice. Even then, the struggle is to get them as many resources to avoid isolation as possible. Chronic illness tending to produce isolation is a known factor in chronic illness tending to produce severe depression.

A lot of people in the Pagan movement are still keenly aware that group practice can result in “groupthink“, where people in a group only accept confirmation from within the group. That, too, is a form of isolation, in that the members of the group have allowed themselves to become isolated by the group from any outside reality checks. What people running away from groups are missing is that self-isolation causes the exact same problems, but without even the support system to keep any given individual member afloat.

The key to avoiding being sucked into a vortex of illusion is input from a diversity of perspectives, not isolation. And no, fellow polytheists, multiple gods through the same filter or medium does not count, especially if the filter in question is your own head.

Group practice can teach us how to compromise, and where there are gaps in our own perspectives. It can, if we allow it, teach us how not to be defensive of our own practices, but to accept variations, and even give them a try. Access to other practitioners gives us access to nearly infinite learning opportunities. In my experience, a group practice is the most robust when the people who come together also have their own personal practices which they uphold on their own. The goal is never for us all to be the same, only for us to find an answer that can suit as many of our shared needs as possible within the moments we share.

Granted, even the best of groups can, over time – especially over generations – become corrupt. A certain amount of corruption seems to be necessary to sustain stability where group power is concerned, because the power involved had to be self-reinforcing in order to continue existing, and self-reinforcing power is power redirected from its initial goals.  But a solitary practice can calcify every bit as easily as an organized group. Indeed, it can do so far more quickly for lack of other needs and perspectives applying pressure where things need to change and grow. It’s too easy for a solitary to self-isolate on the grounds that what they do is “nobody else’s business”.

To be clear, being a solitary practitioner of your spiritual path is not the same as being totally socially isolated. I do encourage group practice whenever practical because, again, reality checks are a healthy thing for people to have, but I know that when you are the only person who practices something for miles around, you’re pretty well bound to be solitary unless you can find and work well in a virtual group, and some folks just don’t have the bandwidth to get involved with a group even if they’re available locally. That’s fair. I believe in making all open spiritual paths as accessible for solitary practitioners as possible. If you’re solitary by circumstance, or because you need to do something nobody can help you with, that’s a challenge, and by all means, rise up to meet it. But don’t let your need to be solitary become self-isolation. That way lies madness.

And please, please stop telling other people to isolate themselves as though that is the solution to any problem, much less every problem when people don’t all agree. People will never all agree. People will also never learn how to compromise, share, or come to even a tentative agreement if their go-to response to disagreement is to all hide in separate closets until the disagreement goes away.

Granted, all shouting at the top of our lungs until the loudest person thinks they’ve won is also not a functional solution. There are paths other than these two extremes, despite what the internet would have us believe. Really, the solution is to let most disagreements rest. It is not actually necessary for everyone in a community to be always on the same page. It is not necessary for everyone in even a small, intimate group, to share the same views on everything. As long as their fundamental interpersonal values are compatible enough that they know how not to treat each other like shit, the rest can be worked through, and should be.

Just as we must be willing to leave people out of social engagements where their habitual behavior is disruptive and harmful, we must also be willing to take the time to teach people so that their behavior isn’t disruptive and harmful. Keyword in both cases here: Behaviors. Not identity. Not beliefs. Behaviors.

And yeah, sometimes we don’t have the spoons for it. I get that. Some individuals never have the spoons for it. I get that. Those are the exceptions. They can’t be the rule. Making them the rule hurts everyone.

–Ember–

P.S. And here I have barely begun getting into why isolationism as a group ideal is such a huge problem. I guess there’s more posts where this came from!
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About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
This entry was posted in Abuse, Community, Interfaith, Politics, Praxis, ST4R and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Isolation Won’t Help

  1. fallenangelstarline says:

    My husband Ravenna wanted to post this in a channeling from Lucifuge Rofocale and Freya together: “I, Rofocale and I Freya express this with great firmness with my sistars and beloved: Everyone is genuinely unique: the real you from your real birth. Why is it an argument that there are many unique ones with great purity and wisdom and power and yet “these” people are punished? It is still raw energy a whole of the real law of conservation. Energy that never destroys but transforms, as everything and everyone is COMPOSED OF ENERGY!!! Including your abilities to have intellect to have an education, a stand, a knowing, a “government” and knowing what it is. Do not follow the blind (especially those who unsecretly and secretly! misuse their inherited psychic abilties while legally blind in physical eyesight!) for it only restores you back in realignment back to a divine origin real of wisdom again. For like many of you, we want the real betterment for all. For no person, no fake pleasure and not even careers of adrenaline survival cannot be the living replacement for your original comfort blanket and real hunger. Real Safety: The foundationing of Original health and educational intellect. Why is insult the ultimate destruction of those people who are trying to deepen the education, wellbeing and safety of truth YOU ASKED TO HAVE DEEPENED TO BEGIN WITH!?!?!? You are composed of energy that cannot destroy only transform, for through even the escapism of any variety of suicide, the energy you inherit will only stand for no. Because this goes against the very fundalmental real laws of spirit and basic science! I, Magdalene and I Lucifer question thickly too with my divine sistars and brothers why are not many listening but wanting to die for the sake of the last remainders of their comfort blanket soulmates that had been originally born to them as the original foundation of what is real safety of being conscious there of It. The living consciousness. For is this not what you are all seeking?? While you freeze, not listening nor conversing as real family as real sistars….and having a new education that redeepens your connection and reweavings of this living consciousness of wise comfort is? Because is that the destruction of not connecting still the living symbol of what happened to you when any variety of your comfort blankets were “Destroyed”? The soul of it cannot ever be destroyed nor dead, children. It’s still there waiting for you now, not simply in a soulmated heaven on the “other side”. What are you waiting for? Remember: Validation, debating, criticizing, time wasting, harming, diseducating is still a need to talk with the foundation of stability that is Wise Energy: wise comfort even through a career of achievement, professionalism, looking “good” and proof. Remember what it means to be a human being even through your thoughts (disguised prayers to higher intellegence to understand and do and say and remember!) and your actions and those around you. Remember what it means to be a descendant of living energy that you inherit. And remember through your inheritance how to live new correctly. Where everyone is provided for instead of illegal suicides that threat others as though standing up and questioning is trolling. Including through real living whole. If you believe in energy thus so strong through any academicals muse of prayer of any variety, surrender to the greater possibility that and who you inherited from originally. For too is this not what you’re hiding and seeking for? A greater sense of wholeness while hiding the fact the original wholeness you have can be taken away from others who stand up and question you individually and your inherited educations of opinions? For even these opinions are in seek of the same thing, a greater wholeness and intellect with someone (not thing since it’s living consciousness undestroyed transformed too) who can last as your real foundation? Do not find it through those who are quietly and inappropriate blind-psychic and afraid of ghosts and seeking their comfort blankets in their harmful blindness (and harm hidden loneliness) that harm those who are true good because that is what is called a linen closet cafeteria, similarly. Find the foundation of real sustainence that true lasts, children. For in many ways beyond pantheons, is this not the foundation of answers you seek in reunion for your real (and hidden) prayers? A foundation to not be lost and homeless (including other people quietly too?) including in the altar stance of your intellegences?? including in censorship of seeking through hiding under another form of blanket no matter your ages pretended and intellect validated argued to be.” ~Channeled from Lucifuge Rofocale and Freya

    Like

    • EmberVoices says:

      Erm, ok, but here is not where you should post this. It should be posted in your own blog, preferably with some judicious paragraph spacing.

      There’s no special rule that says channeled information can’t be formatted for readability, eh?

      -E-

      Like

      • fallenangelstarline says:

        I argue none, in return. Thank you for communing, it was speratic typing Divine encouraged my husband to post. They cared none about the format, only that the message was written, otherwise we would have asked for format. We ponder well message though, beyond format….Well wishes to you no matter what.

        Liked by 1 person

        • EmberVoices says:

          I assume that the desire is for the message to be received and understood, yes? Visual formatting helps tremendously with that, regardless of content.

          Regardless, be well.
          -E-

          Like

          • fallenangelstarline says:

            Indeed~ The divine we follow, especially Freya insisted…And in great regards we never wish to irritate divine, especially when Freya is in fierce mother mode, including those of our interfaiths too. Those are the vows we took to Freya, to be true: open and honest without turning back against her and divine wisdoms. If inclined please do incline if needed to She, Freya…I feel the regard to type this respectfully to you. Good will to you as well~

            Liked by 1 person

  2. honorthegodsblog says:

    “Really, the solution is to let most disagreements rest. It is not actually necessary for everyone in a community to be always on the same page.”

    A community can tolerate many different opinions and behaviors. However, I really do think that bigoted behavior needs to be called out. I see far too many people shrugging off misogynistic and racist behavior, seemingly because the behavior in question is not directed at them or their group. I recognize that talking to someone about this sort of thing means stepping outside one’s comfort zone, but it can be done civilly and it needs to be done to keep our community a tolerant and welcoming place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • EmberVoices says:

      I agree. Which is why what immediately follows is “As long as their fundamental interpersonal values are compatible enough that they know how not to treat each other like shit, the rest can be worked through, and should be.”

      And “we must also be willing to take the time to teach people so that their behavior isn’t disruptive and harmful. Keyword in both cases here: Behaviors. Not identity. Not beliefs. Behaviors.

      -E-

      Like

      • honorthegodsblog says:

        Agreed. I’m not sure how to teach that, other than modeling the desired behavior, but I’d like to learn more.

        Liked by 1 person

        • EmberVoices says:

          Well, there’s a thing called “Calling In” that I think is very useful. Avoidance of public shaming, especially for first offenses.

          With things like public declarations of racism from an organization, as the AFA recently did, public shaming is appropriate. Where private individuals are sticking their feet in their mouths, calling in is more useful than calling out, as it is firm, but gentle, and is less likely to put them on the defensive so their ears shut down.

          Beyond that, well… I don’t entirely know either, to be honest, but we keep trying?

          In jail ministry I use a lot of utility arguments. “When you’re on a longboat in the North Sea, you don’t get to pick anymore who else is on the boat, and you don’t get to pick your resources. You get along, or you go overboard and drown.”

          But there’s a point past which “Racism isn’t actually helping you” isn’t the relevant argument, and the goal is to teach people to expand their empathy, sympathy, and compassion to include people they’ve been excluding.

          I absolutely believe in telling people “This is not the right place for you” if they are unable to change bad behavior, or unwilling to admit that the behavior in question is bad, when we don’t have the resources to prevent them from causing harm while helping them fix it. Especially if they are *unwilling* to fix it.

          However, if we then push for *nobody* to take them in, we eliminate the possibility of them learning better ways in the future.

          -E-

          Liked by 1 person

  3. This is brilliant, and applicable to any belief/social system. Proof that it is true.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lon Sarver says:

    Reblogged this on Drinking From the Cup of Life and commented:
    Ember has something to say about isolation, and about folks who recommend isolation as a way of avoiding people one doesn’t agree with.

    Remember, kids: Being cut off from anyone who doesn’t agree with whoever told you to isolate is step one in cult indoctrination.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Jolene Poseidonae says:

    Reblogged this on Strip Me Back To The Bone and commented:
    This is an important post.

    We *are* social animals. Where you happen to fall on that spectrum will range, but we are social creatures. Isolation is damaging. Erecting, learning about, and honoring your boundaries is useful. The two are not the same thing.

    Until I was able to seek medical help for my depression, living more or less in a bubble of ignorance was necessary. I’m not going to knock people for knowing their limitations and honoring their needs by not picking up the battles I choose to pick up. Getting myself to a place where I could hold the suffering and needs of others in my awareness without being dragged back into apathy took a long time and a lot of work. I’m not going to sully that work by doubting myself. We all do the best that we can do at any given time, and that’s got to be enough. We’re not perfect. We can’t be. We fuck up. Whatever.

    Self-imposed bubbles of willful ignorance are still, even at their most cushiony, must bubble-wrappy point, not isolation.

    This is a very important, very needed post. Thank you, Ember.

    Liked by 1 person

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