by John Peeples, Guest Columnist
You all know that kid who seems a little off: that guy that sits alone in his own corner of the cafeteria, that girl who seems not to have any friends, or that co-worker who resists most attempts to socialize or bond or do any of the things normal people do. They’re freaks and losers, of course. What sort of moron doesn’t have friends? You’ve also heard about the serial killer, the mass murderer, the cold sociopath who wants nothing more than to kill people for seemingly no reason. Weren’t many of them loners too? Jared Loughner is an example of a withdrawn man who went on a shooting spree a few years ago. Even his last name looks like “Loner,” a clear expression of guilt on the part of the introverted. This trend only continues with James Holmes, Adam Lanza, Dylan Klebold, and Eric Harris. What we need is to do is to reach out to these people and get them some friends, and, maybe, this will prevent such tragedies.
This sort of stereotyping and pandering is not true in any circumstance. There isn’t a “lonely and deadly” person. There is no romanticism in going solo or being alone. There isn’t anything special to being introverted or even alone. Being a loner is a lifestyle, a personal philosophy which only about 25% of the world holds common. It isn’t something that signals mental illness or future murderous intent. Being introverted isn’t a signal to “break someone out of his or her shell”. Despite his overall sociopathic nature, Eric Harris was considered rather charismatic and friendly. It also doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with being a loner.
The last point is present in a lot of stories meant for children and adults alike. Children’s stories e.g. Harry Potter generally show the hero as some sort of outgoing, friendly person (who may have come out of an introverted lifestyle or have been extroverted from birth) fights against the evil, condescending (loner) villain. The antihero can also be this sort of loner type, but then the antihero gets some friends and beats the (loner) bad guy. Congratulations, having friends makes you a force for good, and not having them means you’re doomed to fail miserably. This sort of generalized and farcical nonsense can be found in many different works of art, from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s storied Crime and Punishment and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to the less-storied works of Final Fantasy, Avatar, The Last Airbender, and the Harry Potter series.
What needs to be understood is how the introverted/loner mind works. Introverts and loners in general aren’t there because they think they’re better than you or because they’re stupid, smart, shy, or mentally ill. Some loners are bullied, and they want to create a smaller target for bullies. Some are not very outgoing in general and prefer pursuing other interests that don’t necessarily involve other people. This doesn’t mean that they are intentionally avoiding you. They may have their own friends, but they may crave alone time and do better alone.
I’m an introvert, and I have been for many years. Only recently have I exited my “loner” phase, but I still may prefer being alone. When I ask someone how they’re doing or what they’re doing, it’s sometimes to keep up the illusion that I am outgoing; other times, it’s to see how a person is actually doing. I sit near people to satisfy the extroverted side of me and to pretend that I am “normal.” I’m not the type of person to go to huge parties to be around lots of people. Even going to Homecoming was a stretch for me, and I definitely couldn’t build the energy to go to the dance the next day. I don’t need to hold or to attend social events to feel accomplished. I am fine sitting at home working on my constructed language or playing with my dog Charlotte. That is what I did for several years, especially due to a crippling shyness (whether this is from the Asperger’s or my introverted nature I shall never know). I’ll admit, I do get lonely at times, but I have an extroverted side as well. It’s difficult to balance my need for social interaction and my need to get away from people, but I manage it. I have survived several years while maintaining only one friendship per school year.
Something I’ve had to learn is that loners aren’t necessarily freaks of nature or super-intelligent trend-buckers. Introverts and their companions the loners have their own cycles and differences, and not all Introverts are created alike. We the Introverts are not to be feared or hated, but we simply want to be left alone, understood, and loved as God’s children. And to those of you who love being alone, but are too afraid to understand why, I understand your need. Don’t be afraid to express your desire to be alone, and don’t be afraid to be alone.
I don’t believe that things will get better for the loners overnight or even in the next hundred years. We all need to work together to stop this unspoken discrimination. However, if anything, there doesn’t need to be an aggressive effort to break Introverts “out of their shells before they go insane”, but instead to push for better mental health services and better identification of mental illnesses. We need to understand what makes each other tick and not let possible problems go unnoticed before it’s too late.