A primary reason I’ve noted as to we so thoroughly enjoy good company is that something actually develops out of a shared space that we cannot enact alone. It is at once out of participants’ grips as emanating out of them. It is dependent upon the constituents of company, the particular individuals that comprise it, yet the collective development is beyond an individual’s precise attempts at maneuvering it this way or that. Good company is something you relish when you abruptly notice that you’re caught up in it. Your understandings become enlivened. Your experience is enriched and this continues to unfold along a complex mutuality. Whole worlds open up before you with the guides of good company. Whole fields become penetrable. There, a new depth and distinction is illuminated in the self and the world. Ahhh, the interpersonal. I get so wrapped up in good company that when I am thrust into its lack, company becomes its empty shell of mere form, an abrupt, painful absence and aloneness oddly in the midst of being amongst others, that for reasons explored herein, none of this is born. We sit in a shared stagnation. More precisely, the realm of the pseudo-shared, each isolable human a mere component in a noisy but silent crowd.
I try to imagine my identity as something which can be unleashed or suppressed (revealed in being myself or hidden behind facades) depending on the occasion, but this one-sided plan always resists execution. My identity, rather than under the auspices of a cognitive executor, me - the sovereign, seems to be called out, provoked, by certain others, certain configurations of others. As described in A General Theory of Love (Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2000), “In the vistas of imagination, the self is a proud ship of state - subject to the winds and tides of circumstance, certainly, but bristling with masts and spars and beams, fairly bursting with solidity. We would scarcely imagine that identity could be as fluid as the seas that supposed self rides upon (pg. 143).” Rare and partial sides of myself come to bear more readily, gracefully, more vastly and sweeping, so I am caught in a self-surprise. And good company can enact personality atop its merely drawing buried forms forth.
Over the years, tinkering with social arrangements and with those I prefer to accompany me through life, I’ve come to rely and expect the heights of good company. I’ve always reasoned that if one could do the same or better solo, try reassessing the company. If being with others took away from experience, rather than enlivened and enhanced it, degraded it, it had assumed its deficient mode and was but a mere distracting obstacle henceforth to be avoided. But there are always new arrangements awaiting my disappointment. What are good company’s preconditions that can become so violated?
As I introduced, the foibles of a failed project of good company cannot be blamed on a particularity - no, it probably wasn’t just Uncle Joe’s awkwardness or Mikey’s vapidity that ruined the potentials dormant in the gathering of selves. This is at once a simplification, a simplified scapegoating. There is, however, a fairly predictable pattern to similar configurations that consistently churn out a less-than-enjoyable communal gathering. I have a suspect precondition to good company (and generally a personal bias): the necessity, at the outset, of a privilege of good input. Things worthy of sharing, of bringing to the public sphere. A collection of empty vessels, as an old instructor of psychotherapy taught me, is like a meeting between corpses. Some may claim good company is entirely individualized, relative along the various intersecting planes of interests, pastimes, plans, that conservation’s curvature of compatibility reveals good company. Like people get along with like people and seem to enjoy each other. This may provide the filling, oiling the bearings, but I have another suspicion that there is something more fundamental in company gone awry than the chance of incompatible lives. (As an aside to my blog-reader, I identify myself as a habitual seeker of the more fundamental layers - it’s my draw toward ontology and the conditions that allow for the possibility of being - more, of course, but later). Surely so, for even in the mostly reliable good configurations, there are occasional momentary duds. And the interests, pastimes, and plans remain.
What is it that spurs the enlivening, enhancing generation of conversation? Those involved must hold a contributory motivation. What I mean by this is that along with substantial potential of worthwhile contribution explicated above as my conceptual bias, people must seek and support the effort of good company. This needs to matter in order for it to launch. In a group, we can all just kick back, failing to be present, failing to combine self with other selves in this magnificent production. Why would anyone ignore these potentials? Good company requires work, an efforted, spirited, motivated action. Intragroup conflict can sabotage. But more likely it is intragroup apathy.
What I am leading to is the felt difference between dialogue, and the shared, developing mutuality that it spawns, and conversational deadness. Many do not approach gatherings with rigor or such high expectancy as I do. But a taste of what lies within interpersonality, its greatest unfolding - good company - vitally remembered, will cast constricting forms into the inferior variants they really are. There is a flatness in exchange as propositions are tossed to recipients and promote nothing further, stale lines. A banter of pre-formulated stories, renderings, ideas, intact and unmodifiable (and in my classification, thus unworthy of the sacred demands of shared space). Dead conversation seeps into the very content of its members’ words, now profuse with trite banalities neatly picked up from one source or another and plopped into the nexus of the now-occurring ‘conversation’. Dejà vu possesses me in these cruel moments as I feel I’m somehow in a recording of a prior originality. Attempts to awaken our communal decay fall on already decayed eardrums. More deadness is passed around for a second helping. No, I’ll pass, this is not what I was trying to evoke. It can easily be the case (and by me has been) that these groups garner scathing criticism, as I claim in its aftermath that I was subjected to the bored and the weary. What terribly helpless people they were. But this misses the burden of responsibility in the shared task of good company. For I too am deadened in the process, finding as time proceeds within the interpersonal void, the night stretching on with these people, that more and more I feel I have nothing to offer, and when I do, it takes the form of a banality - I am caught in self-surprise again. I feel hijacked.
Impasse. Struggling for years with the inertia and rigid dichotomy of good company and conversational deadness, it is nearly impossible for me to infuse the latter with the preconditions, to challenge each gathering I wind up in or actively create, prodding for interpersonal jewels. I could take up an explicit technique in cultivation, pull out some Bohmian dialogue strategies, but somehow I am drawn to allowing good company to arise organically.
Blog-readers, bring in the concrete examples, bring in the whole of what I’ve missed or misconstrued, bring in the probably raw portrayal of who I am as a person in order for these things to come to illumination. Let’s get this conversational party started. (Isn’t it ironic how so many gatherings labeled “parties” - conjuring joviality - ultimately fail in this task of good company? The very unjovial strategize throughout its abject duration an exit plan…).