Dr. Helen Smith poses some important questions at PJ Media this morning:
...to some degree we are social animals, but some of us are more social than others. For example, in books like Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, the author makes the point that a private homelife can sometimes provide comfort and inner peace. I remember in graduate school (at the New School for Social Research in New York), I had one class where we discussed whether it was healthy for people to be hermits. Some people said “yes,” and some “no” but it wasn’t a unanimous consensus that people were social animals. Even the psychologist professor wasn’t so sure. Today, everyone is told to interact with each other because it’s “healthy.” Maybe yes, maybe no, but for those with demons in their head, the wrong kind of interaction may make things worse, not better. The right kind with a person they can trust to help? Usually priceless.
First, I must allow my inner Grammar Nazi to relieve himself, lest he explode: "Healthy" applies only to a description of a living organism; the correct word here is healthful. And as for "The right kind with a person they can trust to help?" That would be an expert in multiple-personality disorder.
(Sorry, Dr. Helen. I love you and all, but I've sworn a sacred oath no longer to let educated persons get away with easily avoidable mistakes of these kinds; their diction is too likely to be taken as authoritative by others. If this be OCD, make the most of it.)
I'm a noted recluse. I've never had many friends. I'm emphatically not a "party animal;" groups of more than about four persons induce a sense of hazard in me. Throughout my life, those around me have chivvied me to "be more sociable." Yet only in my periods of solitude can I achieve the serenity required for productivity and maximum clarity of thought, however such things are measured.
But I know another exceedingly bright fellow who's exactly the opposite. He has dozens of friends, each of whom he values greatly and strives to see as often as possible. He glories in having a lot of company. Indeed, he seeks it out. When he finds a group to which to attach himself, he tends to dominate it. Between us, we constitute a testament to the scope of human variability.
The individual need for interaction with others is...well...individual.
We could have some lovely arguments over the genesis of individuals' "sociability index." It might have more to do with genetics -- the particular strain of Mankind from which he draws his inheritable traits -- or more to do with upbringing and socialization. Indeed, I'd venture to propose that the sexes differ markedly in this characteristic, and the races as well. But at the individual level, I can see no justification for a firm link between any particular degree of sociability and "mental health."
The old definition of mental health still strikes me as the best one: "A mentally healthy person is one with the capacity for work and love." Sociability, above the degree required to allow a single beloved Other into one's sphere from time to time, appears to this quasi-hermit to be an independent variable. Besides, we cranky sorts wouldn't want to give the Social Engineers yet another rationale for having us committed "for our own good," now, would we?