Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Abraham Lincoln: The Isolation of Intellect

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Abraham Lincoln: The Isolation of Intellect

Article excerpt

Although social media have been with us for almost 20 years, loneliness in America continues to be a haunting issue. Twenty- seven percent of Americans over 18 live by themselves, and the number grows each year. It might seem odd that Abraham Lincoln can be a source of insight on loneliness, but it is at the core of his humanity. With this, as with so many other human struggles, he has much to teach us.

In the 37th chapter of "Moby Dick," speaking of the crew of the Pequod, Ishmael tells us, "They were all Islanders. ... Isolatoes too, I call such, not acknowledging the common continent of men, but each Isolato living on a separate continent of his own."

On the surface, Abraham Lincoln was a gregarious, engaging man who enjoyed the company of his fellow men and women. He is often portrayed as empathetic and kindly, and as someone who loved to entertain his friends with hilarious stories (19th century humor). There is no doubt that Lincoln valued social contact and involvement. It was and is the life blood of politics.

Underneath the surface was a current that ran stronger in Lincoln. It arose in his youth and young adulthood and deepened in the Springfield years and the presidency.

Abraham Lincoln was at heart an Isolato.

In his childhood in Kentucky and youth in Indiana, he spent much of his time alone. Chopping wood and reading were solitary activities good time for thinking. The first bonding relationship he had was with Sarah Johnston Lincoln, his stepmother. Although he was in the midst of social interaction, he learned to be alone and to enjoy it. There is a story from the Indiana years of him standing on a tree stump and giving a speech to the birds, the trees and the fields.

It was in the New Salem years that the extent of his aloneness fully emerged. Garry Wills has always said that when you think about Lincoln, you must realize he was a genius. There is a possible downside to this blessing: because the genius's intellect is so far advanced, it has the potential to isolate him or her. …

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