You can hide but you can’t run

You can hide but you can’t run

You can hide but you can’t run

Have you heard of ‘hikikomori’?[1] It is a Japanese word used to describe young adults who live as a recluse, often in their parents’ own home. They live totally cut off from the rest of the world, in a way that doesn’t even attend to their own basic needs; they simply remove themselves from life and interact with the world through their computers.

Some estimates put the number of young people living this way at about one million[2], yet this phenomenon is not just seen in Japan, it is prevalent around Asia, America, the EU and the UK. So, the real numbers are well beyond one million people who are saying ‘no’ to life as we know it.

It is understandable that people would want to study this behaviour and explore its causes as if this might be some unique condition. But what if we stepped right back and looked at it as just one example in a spectrum of behaviours in which people disengage from life.

There are many ways in which people end up disengaged in life, either through their own hand or life circumstance. Yes, this is up at the more extreme end of the spectrum but so are things like criminality, homelessness and addictions in all their forms and even suicide.

But what about the less extreme examples? What about the ways in which you and I might have our own little version of not fully engaging with life?

What if these extreme behaviours distract us from seeing that the real problem could lie with the model of life that we are being asked to live in the first place?

The interesting thing about the extremes is that they make us normalise and accept the milder versions of non-engagement, as though they are not a problem at all.

Who do you know who accepts stresses and tensions as a normal part of life? Many would argue that this is the case, while at the same time reaching for a bottle of wine at the end of the day.

Are we better off focussing on how much people drink or could we take our conversation a bit deeper and explore why we accepted the stresses and tensions that lead to drinking as something that is deemed normal?

What about relationships where fighting and shouting at each other are considered normal? We might even justify that behaviour because they are ‘so stressed at work’. We then might seek out another series to binge watch on Netflix, a tub of ice cream or a porn site to avoid dealing with the stress.

Of course, there could be thousands of other examples and ways in which we focus more on the coping mechanism and don’t question the model of life that we accept as normal.

Maybe the hikikomori are people who have tried the other forms of so called ‘normal’ coping and say, ‘your form of coping is not enough for me’. Maybe we need to see the extremes of the hikikomori as a sign that the model of life that we call normal is not that normal! The fact is, our approach to life and how we cope with life is hurting us.

After all, we seem to accept as normal: workplace bullying, abuse in families, unloving relationships, corrupt politics, biased media, unfettered greed, continual war and much, much more. We use the term ‘human condition’ to describe all of these seemingly normal occurrences, but something being common and being normal are two very different things.

Even calling something a condition implies that it is a way of living that is set and something we have to learn how to deal with. Yet, that term ‘condition’ can have a very different meaning that may be even more applicable in this instance.

When used as a verb, when we condition ourselves, we prepare ourselves to do certain things. Athletes for example do extensive training to condition themselves for their event and respective discipline.

So, what if the root cause of this so called human condition is that we have conditioned ourselves to accept this model of life?

The problem with conditioning is that we can get used to something and thus, seek another and often more extreme version to emerge. The time once spent on 20 cent per play arcade games has now become days spent on video games, with online multi-player games and international gaming competitions and stadiums filled with people. We have now made gaming online for hours a real – and for a small number of people – lucrative career aspiration.

Our morning cuppa to start the day became morning and afternoon tea, then it morphed into caffeinated soft drinks and now we have a coffee shop within easy reach everywhere and it is common to see people walking down the street with a take away coffee/tea in their hand.

Any coping mechanism that becomes normal, yet doesn’t deal with the underlying tension, just results in the next layer of coping.

It truly seems that we can hide, but we cannot run.

The million-dollar question is – what are we running from?


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Filed under

HumanityIntimacyMental healthRelationships

  • By Joel Levin

    People and groups is where it is at for me, the way we work together (or not), it’s what I do for a living and what I do for a hobby, in essence it’s my everyday.

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd