The mind has a habit of contrariness. Tell yourself you must do something, and it produces reluctance. Tell yourself you cannot do something, and it produces craving.
So it seems to be at the moment. We are in lockdown. The dictionary definition of the word is ‘a security measure taken during an emergency to prevent people from leaving or entering a building’, which would seem to describe current circumstances. But it also means ‘the confining of prisoners to their cells, as following a riot or other disturbance’.
Lockdown particularly means to be held in solitary confinement. It is perilously close to locked up, which means to be imprisoned, punished, or even mentally disordered. Lockdown means isolation, and it tends to be thought of as isolation of an involuntary kind.
The language of isolation is generally judgemental and derogatory. It describes a form of captivity that is more for the benefit of the rest of society than for the individual involved. They are ostracised, blacklisted, boycotted, avoided, expelled. Described as an outcast, a pariah, leper, exile, nonperson, reject. They have been sent to Coventry. They are by the world forgot.
But that’s nothing to the phrases used to describe someone who isolates by choice. Self-isolators, except in unusual circumstances, are judged to be antisocial, inhospitable, unfriendly, discourteous, standoffish, aloof, unapproachable, lonely.
Being alone is a very different thing to being lonely, but it is certainly a state of affairs that some people cope with and others prefer.
Why not, instead, be enjoying a period of seclusion, taking time out, in one’s den, study, or sanctuary? An anchorage is a safe harbour, but according to Shakespeare it also means rest or support to the mind. Whereas an anchorite or anchoret chooses to withdraw from the world for religious reasons. An eremite, a recluse, a hermit. You could use collocation to turn one of those negative words back on itself. Isolation doesn’t sound anywhere near as undesirable when you put splendid in front of it.
An island could be associated with being marooned, shipwrecked or castaway. But a private island is something to be prized, as is an island paradise. A hide-out is somewhere outlaws fall back to when being chased by the local sheriff. A hideaway, on the other hand, has romantic connotations.
People with busy lives pay fortunes to be off the beaten track for a while, to be far from the madding crowd, to cultivate one’s garden, or go on retreat.
Language and how we use it has endless effect on the way we feel, about ourselves and others. If someone asks you how you are, it’s a British bad habit to say, “Oh, not bad.” Or even worse: “Not too bad.” Negative phrases which seem to cover every eventuality from having just won the lottery to being in constant pain. “Not bad,” after all, is rather a long way from “Good.”
We live in uncertain and terrifying times. I do not try to make light of that. But our use of language, our choice of words, will affect how we get through this. Isn’t it time we learned to be a little more gentle with ourselves?