I walked through a busy town centre last weekend. Not through choice, mind you. Circumstances meant that I needed to be in town longer than usual and so I had to make my way through the high street multiple times on a bright, warm Saturday afternoon. And as I sauntered behind, in front of and around a shifting roster of teenagers, families, groups of friends, loners and joyfully unpredictable children, I couldn’t help but recall the phrase, “Hell is other people.”
I’m solitary at the best of the times—partially by nature, but partially as a result of experience. I’ve seen the dark underbelly of mass human gatherings and so have decided to avoid them. For example, Derek Sivers says this about his relationship with music:
“I don’t like live music. (I know that is a very despicable opinion.) I love great recordings.
Like my preference for one-on-one conversations, my relationship to a piece of music is personal — it’s between me and the music. I don’t want to have a bunch of other people around, and don’t want to be distracted with other things when listening. Ideally, instead of a one-to-one relationship between listener and musician, it would be one-to-zero, where I can’t even know who the musician is. Then I could focus just on the music itself, and not be distracted by any personal information about the musician.”
I can identify with those feelings. I too prefer a personal, intimate relationship with the music I love and dislike live performances. But that is perhaps because the alternative is to listen to the music I love in the presence of others, at a concert or a gig, and I do not like that idea at all. However. Despite my revealed preference for the solitary and my scepticism of others, my siding with the sentiment, “Hell is other people”, is always short lived. Because whenever I recall that phrase I find myself adding its second half:
Hell is other people, but so is heaven.
Sure, going to a concert evokes a distinct unease in my mind. And in my gut. So does going to a party. In fact, any activity involving more than a handful of people is met with disagreement from some part of my anatomy. But these feelings of unease are dwarfed by the pleasant sensations that arise when I think about spending time with the people I care about, and when I think about corresponding with those individuals I have encountered through the publishing of ideas like this.