Emma C. Wiliams:

At primary school, I rarely played with other children. For me, playtime usually meant a walk around the edges of the playground, observing others and thinking to myself.

There were lots of reasons why I found it difficult to connect with my childhood peers, none of them particularly interesting or unusual, but I do sometimes wonder whether my early experiences have defined my temperament; I’ve never been much of a joiner, and I find many people frankly depressing.

…Experience has certainly taught me that being part of a group is not in my nature, and broadly speaking I am proud of the fact that I won’t play ball for the sake of staying on the team. It may not be my most attractive quality, but it’s the one that will drive me to raise the alarm whilst everyone else stays silent; it also makes me the kid who will shout that the emperor’s got no clothes on.

For obvious reasons, perhaps, I consider my lifelong aversion to casual companionship the most fundamentally defining feature of my personality. The most significant currents in my character, both positive and negative, trace back to this wellspring. Sometimes this trait can indeed lead to original perspectives and intellectual independence. At other times, it can make me sound like an adolescent cliché of self-regard and sour grapes, like a Pinterest image of a Nietzschean aphorism overlaying a Caspar David Friedrich painting.

The philosopher George Carlin, expanding on his predecessor Aristotle’s idea of the Golden Mean, once theorized that everyone who drives slower than you is a moron, and everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac. Both of these great men were identifying something that is probably inherent in our neurology itself. Buoyant as cork, our ability to always portray ourselves as the sane, reasonable individual surrounded by mindless fanatics can never be submerged by self-doubt. And yet, we can all look back and recognize many instances in which we were embarrassingly wrong, times when we were the morons or the maniacs, without disturbing this narrative. There have been episodes in my life where my isolato nature has given me insights that many others seem to miss. But there were also times when a wiser friend or family member could have saved me a lot of unnecessary trial and error, had I only been willing to ask questions and listen.

Like everything else, a solitary nature is neither good nor bad in itself; unfortunately, it does not present a shortcut to truth, integrity and enlightenment. Its seductive self-image may even become one more false idol to be jettisoned during the search for wisdom.