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It almost goes without saying that humans are extremely complex. Some people enjoy a solitary walk along a deserted sidewalk lined with nothing but nature. However, many others would find that activity very lonely. Solitude is often preferred by many because of the challenges they have with relationships. This essay assumes that while a small percentage of people are naturally predisposed to prefer being alone, many others choose to rid themselves of company because they find relationships too difficult to handle. But this may simply be because of the inability to effectively use interpersonal communication. This essay will investigate the various aspects of interpersonal communication that can improve the quality of relationships, and prevent people from living a life alone, while also factoring in the various components of interpersonal communication that are important in the capitalist system. Different cultural perspectives about the need for interpersonal communication provide an interesting benchmark to determine whether interpersonal communication is needed for each human being.
The research is limited by the lack of information available about whether people who lack personal relationships are typically predisposed to being alone, or if it is a result of their possible shortfalls in interpersonal communication skills. Effective interpersonal communication is vital for the maintenance of long-term relationships because without being able to clearly reveal emotions, and to understand the other person’s feelings, it is challenging to develop beneficial relationships.
Much of the literature on the subject discusses the concept of intimacy, and what it truly means. This essay uses intimacy as a benchmark by which to measure the success of interpersonal relationships, which makes its definition important in this analysis of effective interpersonal communication skills. After all, intimacy is the holy grail of successful relationships. According to Rowland S. Miller in “Intimate Relationships,” intimacy can have different meanings depending on who is asked, “… both researchers and laypeople agree that intimate relationships differ from more casual associations in at least six specific ways: knowledge, caring, interdependence, mutuality, trust and commitment” (Miller, 2012).
According to Miller, intimacy arises from a need to belong. In order to function normally, Miller claims, people need to have pleasant and frequent relationships in order to function normally. “There is a human need to belong in close relationships, and if the need is not met, a variety of problems follow” (Miller, 2012). The drive to be intimately involved with someone else is a basic part of human nature, he argues. He says his theory is clearly correct when considering the ease by which people form relationships, and the reluctance people have to end relationships. He claims there is further evidence by people’s difficulty thinking about anything else when a relationship is being challenged. This arises from a need to belong, and anything that threatens a person’s connection to other people is difficult to handle (Miller, 2012).
While Miller presents interesting concepts in relation to intimacy, he assumes that all people require a high level of social stimulation. In making this claim, it is fair to assume that the person who is alone is not able or not willing to have intimate relationships, despite it being in their best interest. However, according to Robert A. Paul in “Solitude in Buddhism and in Psychoanalysis: The Case of the Great Tibetan Yogi Milarepa,” solitude is the key to happiness. Therefore, he would argue, Miller is incorrect when he says “… we require interaction and communion with those who know and care for us” (Miller, 2012). Paul would likely claim that Miller neglects to recognize the potential that many people have reached a keen sense of belonging by living a life in solitude. For example, Buddhism states that abandonment of all attachments helps people to achieve genuine happiness. “Attachment – the clinging of desire to an object in the world – leads inevitably to suffering, because of the impermanence of the phenomenal realm: we are destined to lose everything we value, not least our mortal bodies, and so the more we desire and cling to anything in the world, the more we prepare for ourselves a greater sorrow” (Paul, 2011). Furthermore, Paul cites a poem by Milarepa as primary evidence that a solitary life leads to happiness:
“Because I have left my kinsmen, I am happy;
Because I have abandoned attachment to my country, I am happy;
Because I disregard this place, I am happy;
As I do not wear the lofty garb of priesthood, I am happy;
Because I do not cling to house and family, I am happy;
I need not this or that, so I am happy” (Paul, 2011).
This primary-source account of the results of being alone reveals the attainment of happiness that can result absent of social intimacy. However, someone else might argue Paul’s claim with the old saying, “It is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all,” which originated in Alfred Lory Tennyson’s 1850 poem In Memoriam (Martin, 2013). Judging by the contrasts in opinion about whether intimacy is needed by people in order for them to belong, three possible conclusions present themselves. The first is that people are too complex for anyone to say that either social interaction leads to happiness or that solitude leads to happiness; each person is different in their preferences. The second is that the accounts of people living in solitude and who say they are happy, are not telling the truth, or that those who have intimate relationships and say that they are happy are not telling the truth. A third possibility is that people are going to feel both joy and sorrow in each of the conditions.
To help determine whether a person naturally prefers to be alone or have intimate relationships, it is important to analyze the skills needed for relationships. This will help determine whether a person who is in solitude does not want to have relationships, or whether they simply lack the interpersonal communication skills that would make them effective at relationship building. According to Judee Burgoon et. al., in “Mindfulness and Interpersonal Communication,” people develop social problems by having interpersonal communication difficulties. The researchers claim there is the need to intervene when a person shows a lack of interpersonal communication skills, and solitude is a product of not having the right social skills, rather than having a personality that finds happiness in solitude. She argues that communication elicits mindfulness. “In addition to mindfulness growing out of naturally arising features of interaction, verbal and nonverbal message elements can be manipulated intentionally to elicit more thoughtful, creative, and flexible states of mind” (Burgoon et. al., 2002). This complex structure of communication, she argues, creates an environment where not everyone is able to be fully functional, and this creates a demographic of people who prefer solitude in order to achieve the maximum possible happiness (Burgoon et. al., 2002). She states it is in all people’s best interests to build social relationships, but they do not always do this because they lack the interpersonal communication skills. With this theory in mind, Burgoon et. al. would likely say that Buddhist monks who achieve happiness through solitude only do so because they are unable to attain happiness through interactions with others. This would mean the premise of Buddhism is incorrect in saying solitude leads to happiness.
In order to overcome many of these shortfalls that Burgoon et. al. says are causing people to live a life of solitude, she advises people to work on their intercommunication shortcomings in order to be able to effectively communicate with others, and build intimate relationships. The mindfulness to which the researchers allude creates the joy of intimacy, and can only be achieved through consciously manipulating the ways in which people communicate. “In addition to mindfulness growing out of naturally arising features of interaction, verbal and nonverbal message elements can be manipulated intentionally to elicit more thoughtful, creative, and flexible states of mine” (Burgoon et. al., 2002). She is saying that people have the power to improve on their communication, and this can trigger more satisfaction in a person’s life by developing stronger relationships (Burgoon et. al., 2002).
Despite whether one agrees or disagrees with the argument about whether interpersonal communication is a necessary way to achieve happiness, it is often a necessary way to conduct oneself in the capitalist world. In fact, developing interpersonal communication skills is usually mandatory in the business community. Gradually, effective interpersonal communication is becoming more necessary than most other components of a job. Three decades ago, the most important component was an employee’s technical skills, but now it is more in their ability for them to effectively communicate (Ramaraju, 2012). In business, interpersonal communication is needed to ensure the proper communication more now than ever. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to communicate in the business world because cross-cultural communication is becoming an increasingly vital component to successful business interaction (Ramaraju, 2012). The text shows that happiness is one consideration in deciding whether to live a life full of social interactions, but another main component is a person’s profession. Understanding the norms of the person with whom one is communicating is vital to establishing strong international businesses relations, the text points out (Ramaraju, 2012). This indicates that interpersonal skills are not only necessary to achieve an intimate relationship, but that they are also important in many of the everyday interactions people participate in as part of their regular lives. This makes the study of interpersonal communication that much more important to those who have jobs, whether they are the type of people who prefer solitude or the type who values interpersonal relationships.
Ultimately, deciding who is happier – the Buddhist monk who lives in solitude, or a typical North American who has a host of intimate relationships – is a matter of perspective. The texts indicate that the dominant North American belief indicates that happiness can only arise out of intimate social interaction. This makes effective intercommunication skills essential for people to attain happiness, because strong relationships can only arise out of people’s ability to effectively communicate with each other. However, this perspective either ignores or denies the possibility that some people could be privy to a life of solitude, rather than one that thrives on social interaction. In fact, a survey of texts written by North Americans do not make reference to solitude in their claims about the human condition requiring social intimacy. These authors assume that humans are naturally social creatures and a life without this interaction is not fulfilling. While this assertion cannot be outright refuted, neither can the assertion that complete detachment from people and all other phenomenon leads to happiness. While Buddhism recognizes that social interactions can create temporary satisfaction and enjoyment, it is never fully satisfying. Perhaps this is an area that the North American writers on the subject have not considered. Because while both sides agree in at least temporary joy from social interaction, the North American side to the debate did not consider if that joy is long-lasting, and if it is greater than the pain of losing someone, which Buddhism argues is inevitable. A method of testing the level of happiness in people who are in solitude and those who have intimate social relationships is needed to fully understand whether there is a preferential way of life that applies to every human being. However, it can be concluded through this study, that no matter the person’s preference, interpersonal communication is vital in most professions in the capitalist world. That could be the reason why interpersonal communication is so highly valued in the West, and why many areas of the East that do not practice capitalism, do not appear as privy to intimacy.
Burgoon, J. K. et al. (2000). Mindfulness and Interpersonal Communication. Journal of Social Issues.
Martin, G. (2013). The meaning and origin of the expression: Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. The Phrase Finder.
Miller, R.S. (2012). Intimate Relationships. Sam Houston State University.
Paul, R. A. (2011). Solitude in Buddhism and in Psychoanalysis: The Case of the Great Tibetan Yogi Milarepa. American Imago 68(2), 297-319. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Ramaraju, S. (2012). Psychological Perspectives on Interpersonal Communication. Researchers World. Doi: 22229-4686