“The human animal needs a freedom seldom mentioned, freedom from intrusion. He needs a little privacy quite as much as he wants understanding or vitamins or exercise or praise” (Phyllis McGinley).
THE PERSON WHO’S NEVER ALONE IS A PERSON WHO’LL FIND IT HARD TO GROW IN CHARACTER. We certainly do need contact with other human beings, and we even need what might be called companionship (more about that tomorrow), but it’s a fact that we also need privacy. We need times of solitude to reflect, meditate, and grow. We need some quiet, private spaces in our lives. And if it’s true that we need such spaces, it’s also true that it’s hard to find them. More and more, our lives are lived in such a way that solitude — at least significant solitude — is a rare commodity.
Robert Lindner wrote, “It is in solitude that the works of hand, heart, and mind are always conceived, and in solitude that individuality must be affirmed.” By now, the record of the human race is clear: positive contributions to the world are not made except by those who’ve spent time alone, growing strong in the seasons of life.
Privacy is not the end goal of life, however, and nothing that we’ve said here is meant to take away from the importance of interaction with others. But as Emerson said, “Isolation must precede true society.” If we intend our connections with others to be beneficial, we must first learn the benefit of solitude. Little good will come from our circle of relationships if we haven’t grounded ourselves in the virtue of valid principles — and that is almost always done in private.
There are no friends we should appreciate any more than those who’re secure enough in their relationship with us that they’ll honor our need for privacy. And more than that, those friends are especially valuable who, when we’ve taken them into our privacy and confided to them some part of our solitude, can be trusted to keep our private matters private. A friend who’ll guard the gate to the innermost chambers of our heart is a friend indeed. But the crucial question is not whether we have friends like that; it’s whether we can be friends like that to others. Those who need us, need us to keep safe their secrets.
“Count him not among your friends who will retail your privacies to the world” (Publilius Syrus).