I believe that privacy and intimacy are human rights, as fundamental as the right to food or shelter. Although they can exist independently, each needs the other to be valuable.
I started college in California, age nineteen. I was suddenly living in close quarters with six hundred other students. I couldn’t walk down a hallway, use the bathroom or sit in a lounge without someone else being there. Nowhere, not even the library, was safe from noise. And yet, every dorm-room door was closed. I didn’t know my neighbor’s names. At night, from the street, I could always see rooms glowing with the blue light of a computer screen. Thousands of people crossed the quad deep in conversation–with tiny phones, not each other.
Where was the climate of excitement of the mind, that I’d been promised since eighth grade S-A-T prep? Across the main plaza dozens, if not hundreds, of students offered flyers, handouts and coupons, turning a leisurely walk into an obstacle course. In the classroom there was no sense of community. Often there was no sense of excitement. Fatigue and apathy marked every student’s face. At parties the main topics of conversation were jobs and drugs. There was no exchange of ideas here, just strangers getting in each other’s way.
No one can reach their full potential without close friends or private space. When relationships vanish like morning mist, when any quiet moment can be disrupted by a ringtone, what is left? Boredom, a sense that life is hollow, endless distraction, a frantic pretense of joy. Without confidantes, an ocean of frustration bubbles below the surface. Without solitude, our thoughts are likely shallow and uninteresting.
I was always a good student, but at college, my grades plummeted. I could never seem to keep up, no matter how hard I tried. No one returned my calls; and when people called me, I didn’t return theirs. Life seemed hopeless and meaningless; the opportunities before me seemed like a cruel joke. If hell is other people, what does that make society––and why would anyone want to be a part of it?
The only answer to this question, of course, is experience of love. Each of us decides the meaning of life alone; but we must derive this meaning from experience, from society, ultimately from other people. If we endure others with patient resignation, we resign ourselves to life. If we hate each other, we hate ourselves. But when we respect the needs of others, as distinct from our own needs, a truly good life is possible, for us and for them. This I believe.
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