From Dust to Dust
Our human condition makes love and meaningful relationships incredibly important. The universe can be a cold place, so it is good to have a few warm friends around. We are, after all, mammals. We are warm, fuzzy creatures not unlike the many varieties of monkeys that populate the rainforest of Brazil.
But unlike monkeys, we humans have the ability to know that none of us are all that important in the grand scheme of things. We are living on a 4.54 billion-year-old rock in a 13.8 billion years old universe. No matter how big and bad we think we are when we beat our chests and make lots of grunting noises at the moon, the cosmic show will continue on without us when we are gone.
I love to watch documentaries about monkeys and apes. There are many different sub-species of monkeys and apes and each species has its own peculiar type of personality. My favorite primate is the bonobo ape. Bonobos and chimpanzees are our closely related evolutionary cousins. You will be struck by the many similarities that we share in common with bonobos if you watch the video below. The human-like kindness and playfulness that bonobos exhibit toward each other is hilarious and charming.
We Are Social Creatures
Like bonobo apes, human beings are social creatures. We all need to belong to a group and we need to feel loved, liked, respected, etc. Remember: we are all just a bunch of small, furry creatures adrift in an ice-cold, unimaginably vast universe. So why shouldn't we reach out and get to know each other? Quality friendships can enrich your life. Every opportunity to make a friend is an opportunity to learn something new. Everyone has a unique perspective on life and everyone you meet knows something that you don't know. That's what makes online writing communities so interesting. People from all walks of life log on and share their experiences with the world. So, most of the time being social, warm and friendly pays off.
However, there are some situations where it might be better to remain slightly aloof. Also, learning how to remain cool under pressure might help you survive in stressful or tense environments.
Being Aloof Doesn't Always Mean Being Rude
We all want to be challenged. Overcoming obstacles makes us feel good. We all feel the need to push ourselves, grow and develop our human potential. Sometimes it is necessary to turn inward, ignore what other people think about you and plow forward regardless.
For example, for five years I was a crew member on a submarine. After I had completed all my qualifications and training, I stood watch in the control room and assisted the officer of the deck by analyzing approaching ships and making course recommendations. But, I didn't just waltz right up to the control room on the first day that I set foot on the boat. I had to pay my dues first.
Before I was allowed to do the job that I was trained to do I had to do a lot of washing dishes, painting the walls and scrubbing the floors. The more experienced guys gave me a hard time at first, but it was all part of the training process. You have to be tough to be a submariner. If you get your feelings hurt easily, you won't last.
I managed to survive and get promoted several times because I maintained healthy work relationships with everyone regardless of whatever situation I found myself in. Remaining polite and slightly aloof helped me stay out of trouble and avoid conflict. When politeness failed, using the "cold shoulder" approach worked well enough for me. "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all," as the saying goes.
When Aloofness at Work Is Appropriate
The word "aloof" has a negative connotation, but aloofness is not necessarily an undesirable quality in some professions. Computer programmers, for example, are notoriously aloof. But their job requires them to concentrate and to think deeply about complicated problems. If programmers hang out around the watercooler all day they'll miss their deadlines. In most professions, teamwork is essential. It is hard to imagine a cold and aloof firefighter, for example. I would have never lasted on the submarine if I acted cold and aloof all of the time. But, my ability to be cold and aloof proved to be useful in some situations.
Ice-Cold Marriages of Convenience
People involved in a "marriage of convenience" purposely choose to remain cold and aloof from each other. Politicians sometimes get married to help each others' careers, for example. Some people get married for financial reasons, or to exploit some kind of legal loophole. Choosing to remain cold and aloof might be a practical course of action sometimes for some people. However, I personally believe that those who act cold and aloof all the time are missing out on life.
The Way You Interact Affects the Future
Animals probably can't consciously choose to be aloof from their pack. In other species, instincts play a huge role in the way that individuals interact. We humans have the ability to consciously choose the way we interact (or not interact) with others. We can choose to make friends at work, but doing so might mean having to take sides when there is conflict. In general, it is better to not be cold and aloof but it is important to remember that there are upsides and downsides to every action.
In his award-winning book The Future of the Mind, physicist Michio Kaku outlined his space-time theory of consciousness. According to Kaku, our ability to perceive time (especially the future) is a more highly developed form of thinking compared to our ability to react to social situations in automatic ways.
Levels of Consciousness According to Michio Kaku
Temperature / Sun
Motion / spacial awareness
Perception of time
In my experience, I've found that stressful work situations tend to cause interpersonal drama. If your job is stressful, it might be wise to remain slightly aloof. If your job is fun, however, it is probably better to make friends. Stressful jobs can be rewarding because they are challenging, but fun jobs are rewarding because you get to socialize more.
When to Act Cold
Acting cold should be your last course of action. It is far more wise to maintain at least a veneer of cordiality at all times. But, you may someday find yourself in a situation where you will need to cut off "diplomatic relations" with a coworker. For example, what if your coworker tries to put the blame on you for something you didn't do? In these types of situations it may be wise to lay the freeze on. Sometimes the best course of action is to just stop talking to the person that threw you under the bus. After all if you can't trust someone, why bother to talk to them at all if you can avoid it?
Become cold and aloof only after all other strategies for dealing with people fail. Once you decide to be cold and silent, it may be hard or even impossible to break the ice later on. Refusing to talk to someone will probably cause that person to distrust you. Only choose to be cold and aloof if you are okay with that outcome.
It can be difficult to simply just remain silent when someone tries to make small talk with you. Your natural impulse is to respond when someone attempts to have a conversation. Just remember that you have the right to define the kind of relationship you want to have with anyone. Just because you work with someone doesn't mean that you have to pretend to be their buddy. If your coworker did something wrong to you and created an awkward situation, it is not on you to make them feel comfortable later on.