I am a person who likes to be alone. I enjoy my own company, I rarely get bored when I’m on my own, and I like being able to structure my time around the things that I like doing without having to worry about anyone else. As a person who works full-time, my free time is especially precious to me, and I feel I should be able to spend it as I choose.
Some people seem to go out of their way to make this as hard as possible, however. These are the people who will pester you into attending social events you have no interest in, haranguing you until you’re at a party with people you don’t know, sitting in the corner, getting progressively drunk while wishing you were somewhere else. Their mission is not complete until they’re satisfied you’re being sufficiently sociable, while you think of all the things you could have done had you stayed in.
These people generally mean well. They think that by coercing their more reclusive friends into attending social events they’re somehow doing them a favour, when in reality, they’re merely robbing them of their free time. Lindy West, writing for the Guardian, writes that “Wasting someone’s time is the subtlest form of murder,” and while this seems a little extreme, there is nevertheless a truth in it – wasting someone’s time is taking away a part of their life that they will never get back. Many sociable people seem to believe that, like them, everyone enjoys being in a group of people, when this is simply not the case. Although there are plenty of occasions when I feel like going out, sometimes, I just don’t want to. The problem is, according to society’s rules, this isn’t a good enough excuse.
In the past few months, I have been called out several times for not wanting to participate in group events. These are normally occasions where there will be a lot of people I don’t really know, or a lot of people who I don’t especially like. Given the option of spending an evening forcing a smile and saying things that make me sound like an arsehole (“Where do you work? Yeah? That sounds really interesting” etc etc), I would much rather be at home, working on some writing, watching a film or reading a book. Unfortunately, it seems that simply “I don’t want to” is not a sufficient reason to excuse one from their social duties. I’m constantly being told that I should be more sociable, should try and make more friends and should spend more time with people, yet I have yet to hear a single reason why I should be doing any of these things. If being alone makes me happy, what’s the problem?
My mom was not impressed when I told her that I was trying to worm my way out of an upcoming social gathering with people I didn’t want to spend my time with. She said that I should go because I might enjoy it, but at the age of 22, I’m well aware of what I do and don’t enjoy, and these kind of forced social interactions certainly belong in the latter camp. When so much of your time is taken up by work, every second of free time becomes valuable. Why should I have to spend it doing something I don’t enjoy?
We live in a society where we are considered rude if we turn down social invitations. Conversely, it is never considered rude to pressure someone into going to an event they don’t want to attend or making them feel guilty, as though they have done something wrong, when they choose to stay at home. Why is it acceptable to guilt-trip someone into going out but unacceptable to say no? It is time that the tables were turned, and the sociable people were made to feel as guilty and pressured as their less socially-inclined counterparts. After all, it is they who want something from the other person, while the introvert is bothering no one.
I should not have to explain myself or worry that I will be judged if I say I would rather sit at my computer than go to the pub or a party or a dinner with people from work. It is not me who has the problem, but the people who insist that I conform to their social norms. The fact is, though some people may find it disturbing, that I, along with millions of others, am perfectly OK by myself.
This post is, in part, a follow up to this piece I wrote back in June about patriotism. Back then, I was able to recognise that all forms of nationalism are based on ignorance and fear, however I still found patriotic sentiments ingrained into my psyche. Why this was, when all rational thought told me that patriotism was nothing more than a smokescreen for politicians and a comfort blanket for the closed-minded, I could not tell.
Recent events have made think about the issue of patriotism once more, and have led me to conclude that in order to be the kind, compassionate human being that I want to be, I need to completely reject all ideas of nationality completely. One of the things that made me feel this way was a conversation I had with some people who I considered to be among some of the most generous and loving people I knew. These people agreed with UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s stance that people who are HIV-positive should not be allowed to immigrate to the UK. I was aghast and deeply upset by this. Their reasoning was that these immigrants were crippling the NHS (not the cuts that the government has imposed, then), and that the UK had a right to turn them down. I struggled to reconcile this incredibly mean opinion with these loving people who I once thought were so kind.
It got me thinking about where these opinions came from. When ‘immigrants’ are just an abstract concept that the right-wing press tells us is destroying our economy, I suppose it is unsurprising that people forget that these immigrants are actually people, too. They are viewed as statistics at best, and at worst – pests. It then struck me that these inhumane opinions all stem from a sense of nationalism. These people, like Farage, don’t want HIV-positive immigrants in the country because they will be using the NHS – and the NHS is ours. It is this notion of ‘ours’ versus ‘theirs’ and ‘us’ against ‘them’ that thrives from the rotten roots of nationalism.
The right-wing would like us to define ourselves based on people who are different to us. They would have us focus on the differences between ourselves and immigrants rather than our many, many similarities. None of the differences between people from the UK and anywhere else in the world, be it the US, Russia or Sierra Leone, are unbridgeable. Language, culture, religion – none of these takes away from our shared humanity. However, right-wing parties such as UKIP are attempting to dehumanise people from poorer nations. If they are not British, then they do not warrant the same perks that we do. We have been conditioned to think of immigrants not as people, but as scavengers, who aim to take away what is rightfully ours.
The fact is, though, nothing is rightfully ours. I was only born in the UK by pure chance. I could equally have been born into a poverty-stricken country, never having a hope of clawing my way out of my dire situation. Only when we recognise this does the whole notion of patriotism seem completely absurd. As children, we are taught to share, yet as we become adults, this lesson becomes void. If we are fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy country, then we are conditioned to believe that this is not some mere coincidence, but that we have somehow earned our position among the privileged, and must protect this privilege from the invading hoards at all cost.
These politics are rooted in policies of exclusion and entitlement. If we are ever to consider ourselves compassionate individuals, as most of us would like to, then our politics must reflect this. As it stands, however, swathes of Britons are taking an anti-immigration, and therefore anti-human, stance, all based on the lie that they are protecting something they are somehow entitled to. Having thought long and hard about this, I have come to regard the UK with a new sense of objectivity that I previously lacked – I can recognise its perks and its flaws from the point of view of an impartial observer. Only when we climb out of the red, white and blue bubble that we were forced into can we begin to think about the issue of immigration with open eyes. And only once our eyes are opened, and the fear-mongering of the nationalist right-wing is pushed aside, can we see just how clear-cut the issue of immigration really is.