On Isolation

While recently watching an Episode of Sherlock  – The Empty Hearse (for probably the 100th time), I came across an interesting conversation between the Holmes brothers. While each of their conversations – however short lived – address grave underlying issues, mostly about society, human behavior and feelings, this one stands out to me in more ways than I can imagine.


Sherlock: Well anybody who wears a hat as stupid as this isn’t in the habit of hanging around other people, is he?
Mycroft: Not at all. Maybe he just doesn’t mind being different. He doesn’t necessarily have to be isolated.
Sherlock: Exactly.
Mycroft: I’m sorry?
Sherlock: He’s different, so what? Why would he mind. You’re quite right. Why would anyone mind?

This conversation allows an excellent glimpse into the Holmes’ psyche. Since their early years, both the brothers have been aware of their amazing intellect and mental capacity. And since childhood, both of them have grown up with few friends for company. Mycroft prefers the (too) quiet atmosphere of the Diogenes club while Sherlock prefers solving cases at his leisure, with only John Watson and an occasional Lestrade for company. While their intellectual traits are valued and treasured by the government and law enforcement alike, their other personality traits – such as short tempers, and impatience with any mind lesser than their own makes them as less favorable companions for friendship. This, then, begs the question – is the isolation of the Holmes brothers because of their disdain for “normal” people, or a defense mechanism to cope with their queer personality traits?

A quick google search for “isolation” or “social isolation” brings about a set of dark images – a teenager, dressed all in black, sitting at the edge of a staircase or at the corner of a classroom. Social isolation is most commonly associated with anxiety and depression, and can have far reaching consequences on both mental and physical health. Why is it, then, that some people choose to willingly isolate themselves from the world?

After a lot of introspection on my part (and in no little part the parting words of a friend who told me to “open up”), I have come to the conclusion that self – inflicted isolation is a defense mechanism. It may be associated with social anxiety and lack of social conditioning, which in turn makes you see yourself as someone “different” from others  – others who have no problems whatsoever engaging people in the most interesting of conversations every time they talk to them. As a person who has always dreaded small talk, I have always been on the sidelines of social gatherings and events. Desiring nothing more than slipping away to the comfort of my bed, this lack of desire to socialise made me feel like I was different from others – less in a way – and hence I concluded that avoidance and isolation was the best way for me to stay away from being “found out”.

Another reason why someone would prefer isolation is to protect their individuality and sense of self. Group dynamics theory suggests that the people in a group behave differently from their true nature- mostly borne out of a human desire to be likable and to project the best version of themselves. This leads to agreeing with thoughts, notions and ideas which the person himself might not agree with on a personal level. Over time (and I am not over – estimating a person’s ability to influence others, but rather a group’s) it may lead to people changing their thoughts and points of view on things just to become socially likable, and hence a loss of self.

At least that is how I saw it. But then this dialogue between the Holmes brothers told me that I had it wrong all along. The only thing I had to change was how I viewed myself, and take away my desire to conform.

Isolation – taken in measured doses – is healthy. It allows you to think without a multitude of thoughts to distract you, and allows you to form opinions without any interference from an outside school of thought. In a world which is quick to dismiss and ridicule people with differing chains of thought, different beliefs and different mannerisms, isolation may seem like the only way to cope. It will, however, alleviate only the symptoms but not the cause. The best remedy is to become comfortable in your own skin, and  – as very simply put by Mr. Holmes the junior – just not mind being different.


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