One of the several stray cats that populate the neighborhood has been stalking me. It’s an unremarkable grey tabby with average coloration and markings. Regardless of whatever outdoors chore I’m doing, the cat is usually within visual range. While crossing the street to fetch my mail yesterday, the cat peered at me from beneath one of the neighbor’s trees. It seemed more aloof than usual. I called out to it by voicing a “meow” sound, but the tabby simply remained sitting and indifferent until I began to approach it. Then the cat scampered away and was gone until later in the afternoon.
Regardless of whether a feline is a panther or a common alley cat, it can exhibit an arrogant, superior vibe, yet at times, they let down their guard and appear approachable and attractive. The cuteness factor attracts us to cats, the aloofness part of the equation puzzles us. A similar principle happens among us humans in our interpersonal relationships, too. I’ve noticed that when I’m attracted to a stranger, the degree of his aloofness influences how much I’m fascinated with him. Is he arrogant or is he pondering a problem? The cat-like mystery draws me in.
Aloofness is often associated with aristocratic people. They reside in exclusive settings, rarely bothering to interact with us common people who make up the majority of the global population. When they must interact out of obligatory or social custom, we celebrants are relegated to sitting at fold-up tables that have been set up in the garage. It is there that they commune with us from a particular social distance where aloofness is less pronounced. This behavior is not confined to “upper classes”; it sometimes happens in reverse, as well. We tend to coalesce in cliques or subcultures wherein we judge outsiders with more suspicion, because humans are tribal by nature.
There are also people who are characterized as aloof but actually are not. I was a very shy boy during my school years. A high school friend once remarked to me that fellow students regarded me as stuck-up and conceited due to my lack of interaction with the rest of the class. Of course, this judgment was untrue. As is the case with most shy people, I desperately wanted to be more socially involved with my peers. The shyness was the result of a deficit of social skills and the inability to pick up on interpersonal clues. The combination of self-consciousness and cluelessness had been seen by others as aloofness in the negative sense.
My friend’s statement triggered an epiphany that launched an interest in self-improvement. People who know me today know that I am a friendly, person who is also harbors dismissive, aloof moments. This distancing behavior is something that baffles me as I try to work around it. That said, there are still times of social awkwardness that pop up. I reflexively act nonchalant and unbothered by the situation. When I realize that this is off-putting, I soon relax and try to mingle.
“Art never harms itself by keeping aloof from the social problems of the day: rather, by so doing, it more completely realises for us that which we desire.”–Oscar Wilde
There is a positive type of aloofness; one might call it objectivity. This is a useful quality to cultivate. A high degree of objectivity is an asset when engaged in scientific or mass media work. It’s best not to become attached to particular points of view or outcomes in these instances. In as much as the scientist or media reporter may have particular opinions, she or he must set their preferences aside and maintain an aloofness towards particular methods and outcomes. In my opinion, work issues should remain work issues. The only mitigating factor should be that of maintaining high ethical standards. When dealing with scenarios involving the public interest and wellbeing, a certain amount of objective aloofness is necessary. The key is to maintain just the right amount of aloofness without coming off as cold-hearted or harsh. A small amount of subjectivity then comes to the rescue.
In the end, there is a particular level of enlightenment and strength of character that require a level of aloofness. Because once there is fascination we tend to pursue a subject with feelings of desire. In order to help the public or to be a good leader, a prudent level of detachment and objectivity is required. When there is attachment to view and outcome there is the danger of violating the public trust and safety. One need not be a political or business leader to benefit from the mindful, compassionate use of aloofness.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a cautionary statement by philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, musicologist, and composer, Theodor W. Adorno. “He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interest.”