Legend of the Recluse

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Everyone from just about every culture can call to mind an archetypal image of a hermit. Whether it be the old man in a shack atop a mountain or a lonely woman with a dozen or so cats, it isn’t an abstract concept to consider that one person in the family or community who shuts the world out. And just about every time the hermit-trope comes to mention, there is someone in the story who just can’t help themself from pestering the poor soul: the kid in the group who has been dared to knock on the front door of the haunted house, the traveler seeking emergency shelter who comes across a little cabin deep in the woods, the well-meaning neighbor who has themself convinced that the hermit must be dying of loneliness. The general idea seems to be that the recluse is deviating from the social norm, and so the meddler is therefore within their rights to intrude.

Sometimes the hermit is portrayed as some kind of a sage, some keeper of ancient wisdom, and possibly magical powers. But often the hermit is assumed to be suffering from a form of mental illness. The world of armchair psychiatrists just loves a good recluse case- what a perfect opportunity to show off their skills. They can diagnose someone they know nothing about with everything from agoraphobia to schizophrenia, and it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to set them straight, having not spent time with the person. Unfortunately, the nature of being a loner means being defined by outsiders. Either the recluse is a fictional character on a metaphysical mission, or they’re sick and need to be forced out into the sunlight and taught to like it.

There are plenty of reasons why a person might prefer solitude. Perhaps they have endured some sort of abuse or mistreatment in their lifetime which has damaged their ability to trust others. Maybe the excess stimulation of entertaining company is exhausting to them. Then again, maybe they just enjoy the peace and quiet. But more to the point, the recluse doesn’t owe anyone an explanation. They aren’t a mystery to solve, and they aren’t infringing upon the rights of anyone else by keeping to themself. If it is ill-mannered not to answer the door to unexpected guests, then it is tenfold-rude to drop by unannounced and expect someone to drop everything and host an impromptu visit. And as for those who work from home, this sort of interruption can be a real and ongoing problem. Most people wouldn’t just turn up at an office building or a factory and expect their friend or relative to abandon their work to hang out and chat. It’s a matter of respect.

A person’s home is their sanctuary. It is the one place in the world where they can behave in whatever fashion they choose, so long as it isn’t harming anyone else. To wantonly violate another person’s privacy diminishes the sense of security it provides to its residents. Solitude is a basic need that, to varying degrees, all people need. Those who need more than others are very much entitled to it, and it is for the individual to decide how much solitude they need, and when they may take it. If you know of a recluse, leave them alone. Chances are, they’re probably a writer.

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