A Friendless Existence is the Loneliest Kind of Lonely

Aristotle is reported to have said, “No one would choose a friendless existence on the condition of having all the other things in the world.” What good would it do you to have everything but no one to share it with?

I recently made a trip to California and my wife Jane was going to accompany me. The plan was to do some work then extend the time into some vacation. Unfortunately, she badly broke her ankle the week before the trip and the doctor told her no flying because of the change of blood clots.

While California was beautiful and I met up with an old high school friend, a college buddy and finally met a long time Facebook friend it was not the same without Jane. I often tell people, anything I do is better when she is around. She brings out the best in me and gets me out of my comfort zone to try new things. Missing her got me thinking about Aristotle’s quote.

Human beings are social creatures. We function best and did a much better job surviving in groups as opposed to going it alone.  This is why we’re so heavily impacted by the principle of consensus (a.k.a. social proof). It’s natural for us to take our behavioral cues from other people – what they’re thinking, doing or feeling.

It’s a rare person who prefers solitude over multitudes. Sure, there are some people who like to get away from it all on occasion. That might range from 20 minutes of meditation each day, to walks in nature, or solo camping for days or weeks at a time. But very, very few people choose to live in solitude. Why? Because as social creatures being separated from others can be painful.

Robert Cialdini talked about the implications of this when the famous Asch Conformity Experiments were conducted using neuroscience to analyze what was going on inside people’s heads. When we’re at odds with a group it registers in the same brain region where physical pain manifests. I encourage you to take three minutes to watch this video then consider the following situations that have their basis in isolation from groups:

Excommunication from the Church

It used to be that excommunication from “the church” meant separation from God. I’m not sure that’s really the case with institutions run by flawed human beings but certainly excommunication meant no dealings with those who were still part of the church. That would make daily life difficult and lonely because the church dominated daily life in much of the world. And, quite often excommunication meant no more contact with family members lest they be kicked out too.

Solitary Confinement for Prisoners

When prisoners get out of line quite often their punishment is complete isolation from other prisoners. According to a PBS report, “When corrections officials talk about solitary confinement, they describe it as the prison within the prison, and for good reason. For 23 hours a day, inmates are kept inside a cell that is approximately 80 square feet, smaller than a typical horse stable.”  The article goes on to say, “solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory.”

Rejection from a Group

Whether it’s failure to make the sports team, get into a fraternity or sorority, dishonorable discharge from the military, or losing a job, rejection from a group hurts. The ramifications may not be as serious as solitary confinement but it can still have negative personal and social consequences. While some people can turn that negative into a positive (Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team but went on to great things in the NBA) most people do not.

What are you to do with all this? Two things come to mind:

  1. If you have kids, teach them about the consequences of isolation. Encourage them to be the person who, when they observe another child who is struggling with friendships, to extend their hand in friendship. This could be a first step in stopping bullying and future school violence.
  2. When you notice someone who appears to be a loner, you too can extend a friendly hand. Everyone has good traits and talents, and your friendship offer might be what unlocks that in another human being.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! The course teaches you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

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Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC. A dynamic keynote speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant, he specializes in applying the science of influence and persuasion in business and personal situations. He is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer® (CMCT®) designation. This specialization in the psychology of persuasion was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to the science of ethical persuasion. Brian’s passion is helping people achieve greater professional success and enjoy more personal happiness. He does this by teaching people how to ethically move others to action through the science of persuasion.
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