I've been thinking a lot recently about why I like to hike, trail run, read, and write.
My initial thinking had me convinced that it's all part of an overall MO where I try to interact with the fewest number of people possible on any given day. Note that these are all solitary activities. Hiking and trail running make it quite easy to avoid people because these physically take me to areas that are remote, and therefore the chances I'll have to interact with another person are slim to none.
But it's not particularly helpful, this observation.
For most of my adult life, I've remained satisfied thinking that this was all because I am deeply introverted. While this is also helpful to consider (as it's highly germane), it also feels a bit like a superficial explanation. It's certainly less trivial than stating "I try to interact with the fewest number of people possible on any given day", as there's at least a reason, but this also rings a bit hollow.
The first part of this story likely feels somewhat unsatisfying. "So what. You like solitary activities. What's the big deal?"
Avoiding people doesn't explain anything. Nor does being introverted. Not in any meaningful way.
To that end, I've done some thinking about this topic over the past few days and have come up with a much more satisfying theory.
My theory is rooted in the idea that, it is only in the presence of, and interaction with, other people that our negative personality characteristics can arise. How in the absence of others, we're all free from the burden of having to be reminded of our faults because if there's no one to witness them.
In other words, if you're curt, or rude, or impatient, or "use the wrong words" regularly, or angry, or are a poor listener, or even if you have a tendency to express unpopular ideas during conversations with others, none of that matters if you're not around other people. It is only via the interaction with others that these behaviors arise and/or are witnessed.
It's a little like the though-exercise "If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?". My version is "If someone is socially awkward, and no one is around to interact with them, well, are they really socially awkward?"
Or, if you prefer somewhat more abstraction: when I was in college I took a course called "Theory and Design of Mechanical Measurements" and in that course, I learned that, in order to measure any physical system, you must affect the system. A great example is measuring the speed of a stream of hot air rising above a candle. To do this, you must insert a probe into the stream (which measures the speed), but said probe affects the speed of the stream, as it's inside the stream, partially interrupting it, partially obstructing it's flow. It's impossible to measure something without also affecting it.
If there's no social probe, the flow of one's behavior remains uninterrupted, and in the absence of a social probe, "uninterrupted" here means there are no negative behavioral characteristics on display. Nothing is being "measured".
It makes perfect sense to me that, if you have high social anxiety, are concerned about "saying the wrong thing", and frequently leave group conversations feeling ashamed of your perceived behavior, well, then you're going to avoid other people, as it is only in the presence of other people, only in your interactions with them, that your negative behavioral characteristics will reveal themselves.
This explains a lot about my introverted nature.
In this way, I oftentimes view other people as a mirror. I see myself reflected back through social interactions, and very often I don't like what I see.
What's very curious about all of this is that I seem perfectly fine posting non-trivial writing pieces about socio-political topics, and am clearly unencumbered w/r/t posting about my experiences hiking and trail running.
I've also been thinking about this as a whole (the set of things I'm comfortable showing), as it seems to me to be a bit of "yin" to the previous "yang" (yin = "things to show", yang = "things to try to hide").
For me, everything goes along just fine until I have to interact with other people. High social anxiety, low patience, some level of built-in insensitivity and/or lack of empathy, sprinkle in some OCD and tendency to hyper-analyize and you have a recipe for interpersonal disaster. Getting away from other people allows me to have a break from seeing negative qualities in myself reflected back to me.
So what do I do instead of interacting with other people? I go out, and trail run, and hike, which is fine in and of itself (and otherwise un-noteworthy), but I also take it further: I publish it. I communicate it. To other people. I emphasize it. I make it clear that I want people to associate "me" with trail running, hiking, and much to my surprise, writing.
I suspect that, what i'm trying to do, is replace other people's concept of me (which to me is likely very negative, as they've borne witness to my plethora of negative character traits and behaviors) and replace that conception with a different one: a trail runner, a hiker, but maybe more accurately, and one level of abstraction up, of a person who is happy doing these things.
It seems implicit that there are two areas about myself that I'm comfortable revealing:
I might even go so far as to say I'm trying to replace other people's conception of me ("unhappy", "socially awkward", "rambles on at great length", "poor listener") with what I think is a truer version ("happy", "adventurous", "enjoying nature", "exploring", "having adventures", "braving/navigating the elements", etc).
And of course, also implicitly: "shy", "introverted", "believes interactions with other people come with certain liabilities", etc. I don't think these are negative qualities, I mostly just think they are who I am.
I had never considered the idea that, perhaps these two things are related (social anxiety and feelings of shame from social interactions vs. publishing photos about trail running), but now I'm convinced they're two sides of the same coin.
I think everyone is somewhere on the road to self-acceptance. I find it difficult to believe that anyone is truly comfortable with all aspects of their behavior, and I'm no different.
I also think that discerning patterns in your own behavior is incredibly difficult, and for those of us with some interesting neuro-diversity, well, it's even more difficult, as the instrument you're using to "measure" the speed of the airstream arising from your own candle, well, it's hopelessly more obtuse and complicated to read than a neuro-typical brain.
However, it's all worth thinking about, because, to quote Mark Twain:
I agree. Not being comfortable with yourself is incredibly isolating, and if there's a relationship between not being comfortable with yourself and experiencing loneliness, it's time well spent to contemplate this deeply. Maybe it will lead to meaningful connection to others.