In Defense Of Troglodytes

Cave people have always gotten a bad rap for being primitive. Whether one looks at commercials or other artistic portrayals of cave people as being archaic in their look and in their behavior, or whether one examines the way that people are portrayed in Plato as being ignorant in caves, caves are associated with negative perceptions of people as being backwards and ignorant. Yet despite this, it is by no means uncommon for people to choose to dwell at least metaphorically in caves, being unsociable and choosing to isolate themselves when they could very well choose to socialize instead. This requires some sort of explanation. If we expect people to be social and they choose not to be, but rather choose to live alone, eat alone, bowl alone, and so on, then there must be some reason why they seek to be alone rather than be around others when they could choose to be so.

What is it that people gain by not being sociable? We know that people lose a lot by being solitary and misanthropic. People lose a sense of perspective when they lack feedback from others that lets them know where they are going astray, and lose a great deal of encouragement that they could get from people who would cheer them on. Yet if the interaction that people get is more negative than positive, and if people do not get much encouragement from others anyway, but only what they perceive as nagging and irritating and bothersome requests, then they could very well feel that it was a net positive to reduce interaction with negative and demanding people and that it would be preferable to live isolated in one’s cave than to be around people who were overly critical and demanding. This is a rational, if unpleasant, sort of decision, and should send a message to others about how communication has broken down and ceased to be enjoyable or appreciated.

One sees in the proliferation of echo chambers the same sort of disinclination to seek or value the company of others who do not treat us with approval, fondness, and respect. Regardless of how one believes or practices in the present-day, it is extremely common for people to seek the company of those who think and act like they do. We want to be around members of our tribes, beings like ourselves whose motives and ways we understand and share. What we do not want, in general, is to be forced to be around those who will speak badly about us or negatively towards us, as few of us have the energy or interest to deal with people who are a drain on us. The near universality of this tendency ought to clue us in on something that is deeply amiss. There can be a great value in hearing things that are not necessarily pleasant, and yet the fact that we avert our attention from such things suggests that we do not appreciate wise advice when it is given rudely or clumsily, and that if we are to regard what someone says, it has to be phrased in such a way that we consider it to be positive and not negative.

What, then, are we to do about this? How do we manage our interactions with others in such a way that we can overcome the hostility that people have to criticism and negativity that lead them at times to avoid the company of other human beings because those aspects are often so marked in the communication of other people? How is it that we convince others, and not merely deceive ourselves, that we have the best interests of others at heart when we criticize them? As a child, I performed an experiment that helped indicate–as if it was not sufficiently obvious already–that one indeed catches more insects with honey than with vinegar. Perhaps we might try a bit more honey and a bit less vinegar in our own efforts at communication with others, especially if we really did value our interactions with them rather than seeing in those interactions an opportunity to demonstrate our belief in our superiority to them or to make demands upon their time or patience or expertise in one area or another. Is that indeed asking too much?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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