The simple pleasure of being alone

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The simple pleasure of being alone


One of the things I found interesting when I first visited Japan was that people were comfortable eating alone at a restaurant. People dined alone for lunch or dinner, and as they sat and enjoyed their meal, they did not seem lonely or awkward. The restaurateurs and wait staff served them without treating them like they were loners and did not seem to mind the small bill for the single customer.

In Korea, 23.3 percent of all households are single-person households. Nevertheless, it is still uncommon, uncomfortable and awkward to do anything alone in this society. Whether you are having a meal or a drink, the rule is that you should be in company of others. In order not to be alienated from an organization or the community, you need to keep a Rolodex and make efforts to socialize. However, you may still feel lonely and empty deep inside your heart. We may be the “lonely crowd” that American sociologist David Riesman has discussed.

In Han Sang-bok’s “If You Are Lonely, All is Well,” the author divided “being alone” into two categories, citing Harvard University Professor Paul Tillich. The pain of being alone is “loneliness,” while the joy of being alone is “solitude.” The idea is that, in life, you come into the world and leave it alone, so you should learn to turn the pain of being alone into joy.

Voluntary solitude actually helps happiness. This insight was expressed by Georges Moustaki, a French singer of Greek origin, when he called solitude a friend and sang, “I am never alone with my loneliness.” There is no contemplation without loneliness, and comprehension comes from lonely contemplation. As Confucius once said, “Learning without thought is labor lost.”

I was thinking about all of this because the Blue House is gradually turning into a remote, lonely island. Some have even called it “Galapagos Island.” But rather than agonizing over its loneliness, it would help if the Blue House would use it as an opportunity for thoughtful contemplation.

At first, the lone diners in Japan seemed strange and awkward. But when I got used to the scene, it was actually quite comforting. One of the charms of visiting Japan for me is choosing a restaurant that suits my taste and enjoying a meal all by myself. I wish there were restaurants in Korea that offered a similarly friendly atmosphere for people eating alone. Maybe I will open up a small diner when I retire. I am sure it would be a good business.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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