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Why no man’s an island

An isolated island, around 630 km from the western coast of New Zealand, Monuriki is nothing less than a paradise with its blue lagoon, white sands, and a natural habitat. But the hidden paradise can become an apparition of hell, if you find yourself stranded on it. Like Chuck Noland—played by Tom Hanks in Cast Away—who is marooned on Monuriki for over four years after a plane crash, where he not only loses touch with mankind but also with his sanity. Surrounded by ocean, with only coconut and rainwater to survive on, it is isolation that he is most scared of. To avoid loneliness, Noland befriends a volleyball. He even draws a face on it and gives it a name—Wilson. Wilson gives Noland a reason to stay sane until he plans to escape Monuriki.

That’s what isolation does to humans. Since the pre-historic era, man is living in settlements. Philosophers, thinkers, and poets have captured in their works the importance of living in groups and how it impacts an individual’s life. “Man is by nature a social animal,” said the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. What he said hundreds of years ago holds true even today and will continue to do so as long as human civilisation exists. It is a reality no individual can escape from. Why? Because humans cannot ‘live’ like an island—in isolation, disconnected from the rest of the world. To thrive and prosper in life, we need human connection, a sense of belongingness, and a community where people can interact and socialise.

This raises an important question. Why do we need society? Since the pre-historic era, man is living in settlements. In his theatre essay, ‘The shadow of the Gods’ American playwright, Arthur Miller writes: “Society is inside of man and man is inside society, and you cannot even create a truthfully drawn psychological entity on the stage until you understand his social relations and their power to make him what he is and to prevent him from being what he is not.” Miller’s notion of the interdependence of a society and an individual—that both grow together—has become a talking point for many experts and their studies.

So, what happens when an individual drifts away from human connection? In their research ‘Relation between Individual and Society’, sociologists FM Anayet Hossain and MD Korban Ali wrote: “Society liberates and limits the activities of men and it is a necessary condition of every human being, and need to fulfillment of life. Society is a system of usages and procedures of authority and mutual aid many divisions of controls of human behavior and of liberties… Society exists only where social beings “behave” toward one another in ways determined by their recognition of one another.” To test the limits of his mind, professional poker player Rich Alati agreed to live in solitary confinement for 30 days. For a month he had to live in a small room, with only essentials and no human company. On day 21, when he realised, he couldn’t bear it anymore, Alati opted for an early eviction.

Researchers who work in isolated areas like Antarctica go through a similar predicament, only worse.


The company of others contributes to the growth of every individual living in a settlement or a society. Hossain and Ali also concluded in their study: “Man depends on society. It is in the society that an individual is surrounded and encompassed by culture, as a societal force. It is in the society again that he has to conform to the norms, occupy statuses and become members of groups.” This being said, occupations can, sometimes, force an individual to work in isolation that can become a nightmare.

Researchers who work in isolated areas like Antarctica go through a similar predicament, only worse. Living for months together in a place with coldest temperatures and erratic climate, researchers stationed at Antarctica fear isolation the most. University of British Columbia psychologist Peter Suedfeld, who is looking for ways to help researchers at the North Pole says, “If you’re stuck there with somebody you really can’t stand, too bad. You’re stuck with them. And if you’re missing somebody who’s far away, too bad. You’re stuck without them.”

What happens to the mind in isolation is not difficult to comprehend, given the number of psychosomatic issues and diseases it causes. A study conducted by Cigna, a health services organisation, throws a spotlight on the perils of living in isolation. Leading the study, Cigna’s chief medical officer Douglas Nemecek says, “Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.” Anti-social behaviour, depression, suicidal thoughts, decreased memory, cardiovascular diseases are just a few effects of isolation.

In this age of connectedness, isolation is the least of the worries. With social media platforms that are built to bring people closer, the world is a busy place with no room for solitude. Billions of people are sharing pictures of backyard barbecues or simply posting ‘what’s on their mind’. In fact, amid such a social maelstrom, one needs to escape from the constant commotion of interactions and conversations. The trouble is when this ‘escape’ goes too far, and you get disconnected for too long. It’s easy, then, to lose sight of building connections in life, so much so that it’s hard to find the way back into society.

We need each other. There is no other way around this reality. Humans can exist and evolve only if everyone works together, shares their ideas, and helps each other in their journeys. That’s how humans have thrived since the beginning of time.

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