I'm an only child too, and it's a strange, somewhat unnatural state in which to grow up. It inevitably puts you at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to developing socially. I am fiercely loyal to my friends, but also fiercely independent and self-sufficient. This has meant being largely resistant to the joy other people, outside my close circle of friends, can bring to life.
It has only been in recent years that I've begun to recognise, and embrace, the warmth, pleasure and sunshine which other people have to offer. It may sound odd, but this has been a revelation to me. I think the following traditional African Xhosa proverb expresses it very well:
'Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu'
'People are people through other people'
This is something which really struck home this morning when I read an online article about this year's Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4. The Reith Lectures were founded in 1948 by Sir John Reith, the BBC's first Director-General, with the aim of 'advancing public understanding and debate about significant issues of contemporary interest'.
Two of this year's five lectures will be given by the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. The recording of her two lectures had to be undertaken in great secrecy, with the BBC even referring to her by the code name 'Maggie Philbin', a radio and television presenter, to ensure secrecy was maintained.
In an interview with Eddie Mair ahead of the broadcast of her lectures, Ms Suu Kyi spoke about her years under house arrest. She made special mention of Dave Lee Travis's requests programme - 'A Jolly Good Show' - on the BBC World Service, and spoke of how it had provided a particular lifeline for her. She said it had made her world 'much more complete'.
One thing she said touched me particularly:
'I would listen to that quite happily because the listeners would write in and I had a chance to hear other people's words.''... other people's words'. I was stunned when I read that. It made me realise that the one thing we really need in order to exist is other people.
To Ms Suu Kyi, cut off from humanity, this radio programme, with its listeners' requests, created an important sense of contact with the outside world. People's musical tastes, their hopes and dreams, their concerns and priorities, were reflected in the requests they sent in, and this helped satisfy Ms Suu Kyi's yearning for human contact and interaction.
I hope I'm beginning to appreciate how precious other people can be, how crucial they are to living a happy and fulfilled life, and losing my original default position of, well, vague suspicion! There are few things I love more than the smile on the face of a friend - and I'm learning that the smile on the face of a stranger may yet become the smile on the face of a friend.