Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Lone Wolf

It’s not a secret to anyone who knows me that I love wolves. Both my tattoos feature wolves, I have several hundred graphics of wolves on my computer, my favorite book series uses wolves as a central character, and my most common nickname is wolf related. On the intro page to my website, I make mention of this and detail some reasons why, which isn’t what I want to discuss.

What concerns my random thoughts today is image that the wolf inspires.

The identity of a wolf is primarily its pack. A pack can be made up of many males and females and their offspring, often up to twelve animals or more, depending on the environment. The family nature of the pack is solid, and provides stability and benefit in hunting. The females will communally raise their pups. Describing the social factors of a wolf pack is a huge task.
Despite this, the image of the lone wolf comes to mind much quicker in many people.

The lone wolf is certainly not a myth. Wolves disperse from their packs for many reasons. For some it is to make a new life, perhaps from overcrowding. For others, dominance competitions, competition for mates and even for food happens and they are driven out.

The lone wolf faces a bleak existence for hunting solo is less efficient. The lone wolf will often trail a pack trying to gain acceptance.

Now bringing this back to me, I was asked by a friend (thanks Erin) if my tattoos represented a lone wolf.

It made me think. As a child I often felt like the loner, or at least one of the loners, if such a thing existed. In fact, most of my life I found myself outside the main flow of the social structure I was in be it church, school, military or work. It’s not that I didn’t have friends; but I was never the social butterfly in the center of group; the main focus of attention. I am actually somewhat uncomfortable in such roles. So yes, in a social context I was a bit of a loner, and when I was younger, I spent many a night bemoaning this fact.

Looking at it today though, my feelings have changed. I began to wonder, is the concept of being alone necessarily a bad one. People choose to live apart from others all the time, for a variety of reasons. My mother was once very isolated in central Oregon, miles from ‘civilization’, and she was content, and healthy. She now lives with my sister, and despite having cancer, she has a strong sense of independence.

In fact the concept of “Loner” is so different from the concept of “Independent”, is it? Look in your trusty Thesaurus and you will find that Lone-Wolf is linked directly to both loner and independent. And if you follow the chain of meanings you see that Independent is closely aligned with Individualistic, Self-Reliant, Liberated, Self-Determining, Self-Sufficient and my personal favorite, Non-Partisan.

All of these terms would commonly be considered positive traits, yet the Lone-Wolf is generally considered the “Odd Man Out”. True that sometimes in our society social groups will drive people out with pack like ferocity, and sometimes this results in maladjustment, but those cases are typically not the norm.

The difference is in how you see yourself isn’t it? The only practical difference comes in perception, nothing more. Sure, I know it’s true that isolation can be unhealthy, and even dangerous. Left to oneself, a person can indeed be their worst enemy. Loneliness can be painful and compelling. But that path leads to self pity, and I personally reject it. Like so many aspects of life, I find that pity is useless. It will certainly allow you think you feel better and you can always blame others and become the victim, but in the end it won’t help.

Instead as the years have gone by, I have learned to draw on self acceptance, self respect, self confidence and self discipline, all of which are components of Self Esteem. Acceptance allows you to grow and learn, and heal. I am not perfectly there yet, but I am trying and a lot happier for it.

I’m still somewhat of a loner, and in some ways I will always be one. The difference is that I no longer mind.

Attitude is the key. I am independent not because I deny the need for others in my life, but because I maintain that need in proper perspective. I don’t indulge in self pity; I simply accept who I am and I enjoy the socializations that I do have. I don’t rely on others for my ultimate happiness; I share the happiness our friendship produces. The mutual benefit means a lot to me.

So call me a lone wolf, I don’t mind and I won’t deny it, it’s true: I am self reliant and non partisan, and proud of it.