“You’ll more quickly find an earthly thing kept from the earth than you will a person cut off from other human beings.”MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 9.9.3
Studying philosophy can tend to highlight all the faults of other humans, and can cause you to look upon the rest of humanity with disdain and revulsion. After all, we’re flawed beings and we make a lot of mistakes, and the study of philosophy makes this painfully clear.
Further, seeing the animosity that people have for each other (especially on social media) and their futile attempts to tear each other apart can make you want to disengage completely.
There are times that I personally am willing to swear off the entire human race based on some horrible news story that I’ve read, or some despicable thread on Facebook that’s filled with ignorance and hate. “Forget everybody,” I think, “we’re all hopeless anyway.”
But the truth is that, as humans, we need connection with other humans. We require it to live. It’s part of the natural order and truth of things. We’re social beings and we can’t survive without the love and nurture that we get by connecting with other people.
And that’s why Marcus Aurelius says what he does, in today’s entry in The Daily Stoic. He’s saying that we’re more likely to see something defy the laws of gravity, than to see a human defy the laws of human connection.
Oh certainly, there are people cut off from other human beings. Often, that’s a personal choice of a very sad human being. I’ve been there, and I’ve held others at arms’ length and refused to let them in. It wasn’t natural, and it was basically like trying to fall up instead of fall down. I needed that human connection, and I was trying to run against the laws of nature — and I was miserable until I eventually came to my senses.
Even more tragically, we know scientifically what happens when we try to defy the need for connection. Scientists have done many experiments on primate infants and deprived them of any interaction in an effort to replicate something called ‘parent-child separation’. The results were predictable and heart-breaking.
And in Ceaușescu’s Romania, thousands of orphans were deprived of all human contact for most of their childhoods, with disastrous and near-permanent damage done to their emotional and physical development.
Ultimately, humans are physically dependent on connection with other humans — it’s a basic need, and without it we suffer and atrophy. We need love, we need community. Hopefully you weren’t deprived of connection as a child, but as an adult perhaps you’ve felt that acute need during the pandemic, when connection was made more difficult or nearly impossible. It’s just crystal clear that we need each other, and that that need is more powerful than gravity.