Social Insecurity

Warning to self: Don’t ignore the stuff you already know, but may have forgotten.

In the process of my research, it is interesting noting the different interpretations of the idea of ‘social’ – wherever the word is applied. What seems like something we should all thirst for, is, to some, totally abhorrent. Some people just simply do not see themselves as having to be social animals, yet, to a large degree, society may be guilty of making the assumption that everybody craves and needs social interaction. We discuss the ‘social agenda’, we talk of ‘social integration’, we even study the ‘social sciences’.

I confess that I have recently thought of learning as a social opportunity for older adults, to share, if you will, with like-minded individuals certain experiences. However, this simply ignores the personal possibilities of learning and also discounts the theories that people can learn on their own, in solitude and splendid isolation from others. Indeed, considering myself, I fall into that category – I can associate with others in the spirit of sharing, but I do honestly prefer to get on with it myself, without having to take on board the overheads of small talk, striking up relationships and generally adding complexity to the task in hand i.e. gaining knowledge and experience for myself.

This makes me sound rather unsociable, but it does not mean that I am. Essentially, what I have learnt from some others recently about this is that learning can take place independently of association or affiliation and there is no need to pretend otherwise. Although a ‘collegiate’ ethic may well be effective for some learners, keeping them united together traveling a similar path, it may well be one of the side-effects of the learning experience rather than an essential element.

At school, I was one of the loners who ploughed his own furrow, ignored in the main by the ‘trendy set’ and I am glad I was – it taught me independence and gave me the courage to wield an autocracy over my own situation. I never followed the herd, but I never really rebelled either.

I must remember this when I develop my notions about lifelong learning. I have seen many people love the social side of learning, relishing the company if brings and the opportunities to make new friends. But, I must not forget that everybody is different and some people simply come to the party for the food, not the company, and that, in itself, is not a problem. Reflecting on the learning groups I have known and know of, they are made up of a mixture of people, some who love the banter and some who keep themselves to themselves. There are those who stay well back whilst conversation is monopolised by alpha male-types, some who enjoy the dance and the rituals of discourse and some who simply don’t care as the situation of commonality is only temporary anyway.

These days, I myself am spending a lot of time on my own immersed in my studies and it does not really bother me. Any relationships I develop at these times are with the research I uncover. There are also times of great interaction with people to offset this, however, no less examples of older adults who I am investigating and benefiting from. It is in solitude though that a lot of my life is spent with words and ruminations about older adults and lifelong learning. I’d like to keep it that way, but, inevitably, reality must occasionally intervene and other activity which involves me, gulp, relating to other human beings.

I tend to avoid joining subscription clubs, especially after several aborted attempts over the years to fit in with certain groups (motorcycle club, charity group, bands etc.), whose patterns of activity eventually couldn’t blend easily enough with the other things I wanted to do. The challenges of trying to fit my life into something are too great.

So, all in all, it is strange that I forgot all about my own aversion to ‘social’. I thank a special friend of mine for reminding me of this.