“It shows much more courage to remain dry and sober when the mob is drunk and vomiting; but it shows greater self-control to refuse to withdraw oneself and to do what the crowd does, but in a different way, – thus neither making oneself conspicuous nor becoming one of the crowd. For one may keep holiday without extravagance.”
This translated excerpt of a letter from Seneca to Lucilius well captures the predicament I occasionally face among crowds, and not strictly during holidays. Many of us do, I suppose.
Personally, it doesn’t call for too much effort on my part to withdraw from the crowd, sobriety goes without saying. I’ve been withdrawing for too long.
Saying no has become a standard way of living. I appraise the environment, and if I can’t harness the philosophical means to rationalize continued presence, it’s bye bye - most of the time, for due cause and better time utilization.
Occasionally, I’ve taken the second approach.
The other day curiosity led me to a picnic gathering at the porch of my building. I largely anticipated the proceedings, yet made an appearance anyhow.
Music blasted at severe volume. Alcohol reigned. Save a piece of one skewered vegetable, I’d identified not a single consumable aliment. Neighbors of my acquaintance entertained their own exclusive chatter. The crowd was limited, and hence, so was optionality.
I briefly engaged a character in conversation. This hardly progressed, unable to inspire understanding of my country of origin or to hear much of anything, and similarly unenthusiastic to amplify my vocals.
I then took a seat, and mindfully occupied a brief footprint of time and space. Ten minutes later, I unceremoniously vanished. Everything proceeded as it had on several scores of similar occasions.
I’ve walked the streets of menacing Carnaval, no effort to assimilate, no haste to avoid, dressed business casual, sober as royal guard, enjoying the moment in my own singular manner.
I’ve attended after-work gatherings, tables filled with identical draft beer assortments, myself accompanied by pomegranate juice, unclear if the aloof element was I or the remainder, unable to form a coherent interchange, mindfully present in my own modest little sphere of celebration.
Maybe this is what Lucius Annaeus Seneca had in mind. Maybe something different. He lands on one keen point, however. It demands a hell of a lot of self-control to be one with the crowd yet not one of the crowd.
Many of us feel uncomfortable with group activities and yet want to be part of the group. I rarely enjoy large group photo sessions, icebreaker introductions, inauthentic laughter or applause, as well as any ceremonies I’ve felt superficial.
Does that make me an itemizer, one who treats group engagements as itemized buffets rather than prepackaged meals?
On the other hand, awkward group interactions I tend to also consider as sort of simulations. For I’ve yet to assert that they be anything but. They don’t feel entirely what they appear.
Entertainment fosters the philosophical, the philosophical inspires the academic, the academic triggers the industrious, and the industrious, in turn, cycles back to the entertaining. And the reverse. The formal lingers a mere step away from the informal, as the rational from the perverse.
Questions, comments? Connect.