The pleasure of human interaction
The Pleasure of Human Interaction
The eminent Psychologist, Sigmund Freud, defined “isolationism” as a mind’s “defense mechanism” against perceived threats. In plain English, that translates into people avoiding each other so that their feelings or self-image won’t suffer. Like most psychobabble, you always have to wonder if the concepts discussed have any practical relevance to our daily lives or are just another exercise in navel gazing by bored academics.
I thought of this today as we were having coffee at our favorite oases in SW, Florida, the Panera Bread Company in Estero’s Coconut Point Plaza. It was a balmy 75 degrees out, with that brightly washed cerulean sky that only a day of rain can produce. The palm trees rustled gently above us as we sat, enjoying the morning and chatting about the events of the last few days.
A woman near us was engaged in a loud cell phone conversation, completely ignoring her mate, who sat at the table intermittently, bored and yes isolated. A young lad populated the table next to theirs. He was in his twenties, engaged in full “head down” mode as he manipulated information on his I-phone. He too was both isolated and insulated from everyone around him.
I am not sure whether this type of behavior is a classic case of isolation, as a defense mechanism, or worse, merely an utter disinterest with everyone around them, a monomaniac focus on their own small life and circle of interests. The very young and the very old are naturally subject to this form of egocentric behavior. Perhaps it is nature’s way. I know that in large cities like New York, visiting outlanders are often stunned by the apparent callous disinterest of the natives towards those around them. In these crowded, aggressive, venues, perhaps Freud hits the nail on the head. If you don’t interact with your surroundings, in difficult situations, you have less of a chance of getting hurt emotionally. Maybe the mentality evolved from the time when we lived in caves and wore bearskins. Anyone new arriving on the scene was indeed considered a threat to the clan.
This mode of isolation is distinctly a loss, in my opinion, for those so self-engaged. All around us there are interesting groups and pairs of people enjoying their surroundings and each other’s conversations, on a balmy November morning in South Florida. We have become acquainted with many of these fine folks, over the last few years, as we shared the pleasantries of the day with them on multiple occasions. They come from many states and countries. Each has an interesting life experience to talk about. We are much enriched by meeting and talking with them a few times a week.
And what of the isolated ones? We don’t really know who they are. They drift through our lives, and those of the people around them, as isolated nomads avoiding contact and missing out on all of the pleasure of human interaction. Maybe they do indeed feel safer for the lack of human contact, but I wonder if they know how much they are missing?
I wonder if Freud is right and they are avoiding the admittedly messy detritus of human interaction as a defense mechanism? The Good Lord knows that we all have friends and family who could try the patience of a risen Christ on an Easter Sunday morning. In spite of this, the rewards of interacting with scores of people, from different and interesting places and cultures, much rewards us for our efforts. So, we smile say hello and chat amiably with those around us in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. We are much richer for the experience.
Joseph Xavier Martin