[FOUNTAIN]The Lessons of Solitude

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[FOUNTAIN]The Lessons of Solitude

It was in 1968 that the chanson singer Georges Moustaki, then 33, sang about loneliness in the song "Ma Solitude."

"We spent countless nights together / Solitude is my friend / And it is a sweet custom. Like a faithful shadow / My solitude did not leave me for a moment / My solitude went with me everywhere in the world." Moustaki was an Egyptian-born Greek who went to France and led a lonely life among expatriates there. "I will never be alone with my solitude," he sang. He became a troubadour for the words that comforted the loneliness of that period's generation.

The American sociologist David Riesman wrote about alienation and isolation in the modern day industrial world. In his 1950 book "The Lonely Crowd," Mr. Riesman sorted character types into three categories. Tradition-directed people rigorously obey ancient rules and seldom thrive in modern, quickly changing societies. Inner-directed people live on the values and customs that they were taught by family in childhood. They tend to be confident and perhaps also rigid. Then there is the other-directed people who are flexible and willing to accommodate others to win approval; they want to be loved rather than esteemed, not necessarily to control others but to relate to them.

Mr. Riesman said other-directed people, who are the product of highly industrialized modern society, strive to be in tune with what others think and like and try to avoid isolation from them. But in doing so, other-directed types may face the inner isolation that contrasts with their outwardly sociable behavior and become part of the lonely crowd that people in modern society have come to represent.

The explosive spread of the Internet may be a representation that the solitude felt by modern day people, even in a crowd, has deepened that much more. The lonely crowd in the modern information age has become "the connected crowd that is also lonely." Today, Mr. Moustaki could very well be singing, "I will never be alone with my Internet."

There can be no meditation and reflection without solitude. Learning can come from contact with other people, but realization can come only from reflecting on that information. Confucius said, "Learning that is not accompanied by reflection can only be shallow in the insight."

Following another failed inter-Korean ministerial dialogue last week, Unification Minister Hong Soon-yong said, "I don't think I can discuss life with anyone who has not been through an inter-Korean dialogue." It may also be true that one cannot discuss life with anyone who does not enjoy solitude.

The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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