This Gift of Solitude and Time

By Gary L. Gregg
Gary L. Gregg
Gary L. Gregg
Gary L. Gregg is director of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville and editor of “Securing Democracy—Why We have an Electoral College.”
April 9, 2020Updated: April 13, 2020


In the 21st century, we are overinformed, endlessly stimulated, and undereducated.

We have a world of information at our fingertips. Website after website has collected the latest (and the oldest, too) on pretty much any topic imaginable. YouTubers have created a “how-to” video for every project you can imagine and promises of “five minutes” to fix any flaw in your physique. Every newspaper and magazine can be delivered to your home at any time of day or night.

Right now, you’re likely reading this on your computer or phone locked away in your home (as I wrote it locked away and alone with my computer in my sunroom.)

And then there’s the cycle of press conferences of presidents, governors, and mayors, and wall-to-wall coverage of the virus that seems as bottomless as our entertainment options. We have Netflix and Hulu and Disney and HBO and just plain old cable TV. And we have video games that allow us to play with fellow gamers all over the world.

Locked away in our homes, we are surrounded by continual information and waves of potential stimulation. To be bored in the 21st century is to commit the sins of hubris and ingratitude. We have so much and yet we want.

The current pandemic has upended our lives. Many of us are struggling with social isolation, unemployment, and stress. Our daily routines have been upended. Our favorite restaurants and bars are closed. Our friends are unavailable to us.

This is the Great Disruption of 2020.

We can’t determine the circumstances of the times in which we live, but we can determine how we deal with them. Rather than focusing on the challenges brought by the disruption, rather than obsessing over the latest press conference or scientific model, we have the chance to treat this disruption as an opportunity.

It may well be, frankly, the best opportunity we will ever have for the kind of deep study and preparation our age of information and stimulation ordinarily makes so difficult.

Without the time spent getting ourselves together in the morning, then commuting to and then back home again from work; without the distraction of colleagues popping into the office; without, unfortunately for so many, even the distraction of a job for which to work from home, we have the perfect time to focus on our own futures.

For many of us, this should be a boon time for exploration and growth. Here are a few thoughts on how to make the very most of this time that may never happen for you again.

What to Do

First, take the time to be quiet. We live in a noisy culture. We are constantly subject to stimulation that comes from other people, technology, and corporations. Music, podcasts, television, traffic, and other conversations are the background of our lives.

We often use this noise intentionally to distract ourselves from ourselves. Rather than face tough choices, deeper reasons, and self-examination, we let the noise of 21st-century life anesthetize ourselves to our selves.

Take time to just be quiet. Sit in a quiet room and think. No music. No news. No television. No phone. Just be and let yourself think. You might be surprised, as so many of my students are, at how difficult quiet solitude has become.

Perhaps, after a time, you can pick up a pen and a notebook and journal about your thoughts, experiences, hopes, and dreams. But, the writing should not distract you from the thinking and the experience of solitude.

Second, when faced with all the temptations, ask yourself regularly through the day, “Is this making me better than I was yesterday?” Is this making me a better father, mother, son, citizen, athlete, teacher, mentor, friend? If your answer is “no,” then stop doing it and do something that does have the potential of leading to your own growth and development.

Third, start reading—and I mean really reading. Pick your news source and don’t further obsess over news you can’t do anything about. Rather, take that extra time and start reading some serious books. Your chance to experience a wider life is cut off from you for the moment, but 10,000 life experiences are waiting for you in novels, histories, and biographies.

Don’t exchange your lack of physical experiences in the world with mere entertainment on the couch. Exchange it for a vibrant new set of intellectual experiences that might make you better each day than you were the day before.

Fourth, when you are tired of reading, start listening to a podcast or an audiobook while you take a walk or make lunch or clean the house. Whatever you choose to listen to or read, make it something that you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten to. Pick up that book you never really read in college. Remove some of the guilt for not having read that classic you have occasionally claimed to know. Make your choices worth this gift of time you have been given.

This is a painful time for many of us. But it doesn’t have to be idle time. If you choose to make it so, this forced isolation can prove to be among the most rewarding and formative times of your life.

Choose to discipline yourself to do the work you know you ought to. Choose to grow your imagination, to live a life that will never be possible for you otherwise. Choose to find heroes to emulate and villains to avoid becoming like. Wade into the vast intellectual and imaginative resources that are your inheritance.

Choose to lead yourself at this time of preparation so that you can better lead others in the challenges to come.

Gary L. Gregg is director of the McConnell Center and is host of the brand new McConnell Center Podcast.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.