Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

That Old Time Throng

Originally posted on June 24, 2015

A theme came up on one of the list-serves I subscribe to: Where were the past meetings of our professional association? Part of me thought, “Who cares?” Another part said, “Some people: It serves a function.” After some musing, it occurred to me that it’s in a gut way pleasant to recall: There is a line from the George M. Cohan song, “Give My Regards to Broadway”: “Whisper of how I’m yearning to mingle with the old time throng!” That’s it! That yearning! Celebrating togetherness.

There’s a peculiar category of not just group dynamics, but the subset where one has met the same faces of the group over years, and a certain minimum number of times to strike up a sense of acquaintance bordering on friendship. You’ve put together names and faces. You’ve bothered to remember. Perhaps there have been exchanges of holiday cards or emails. Extended family, old neighborhoods, school class reunions, professional or trade organization annual conferences. These folks are more familiar than some cousins.

There is a field I call “social depth psychology” that speaks to the many ways that we are tribal, we are “herd” animals, a collective species. We didn’t evolve as Adam & Eve, but as a tribe that evolved from tribes that evolved from tribes, over hundreds of thousands of years! Social belonging-ness is built in to our instincts!

The psychiatrist Jacob L. Moreno was a social scientist as well as pursuing many other roles. He sensed this invisible web of attractions and repulsions around each person. He sought to map them using “sociometry” and thus opened up the study of what I call “social depth psychology.” It’s a bridge to social psychology and sociology, but it notes how very deep and poignant feelings of inclusion or exclusion can be.

He called the category of connection “tele,” (though I prefer the term “rapport” as it has a far wider recognition). A certain amount of rapport arises just from repeated encounters at some meeting. There may be in time fifty people whom one recognizes by name, and these are among 200 people one recognizes by face. “Hello again, your face is familiar: Remind me of your name. What are some of your interests in this that we share? There is a sense of connection, however mild, just because you’ve come to this non-genetically connected “family.”

Then we talk, gossip, recall friends or relatives we have in common, catch up: Oh she did? No, he didn’t! He did?? When? Of course there are ups and downs to all this, as it is an expression not only of the vicissitudes of one mind but of the collective. We can’t measure it exactly, but group spirit does rise and fall. Being reminded of our roots jacks it up a bit, perhaps, for some people.

A fair amount of conversation really is more like ants sharing pheromones: On the surface is information exchange, reviewing collective history. “Remember when Uncle Louie dated that hussy?” “Yeah, ha ha! That “hussy” turned out to be our Aunt Sally.” “She seems so straight now.” Gossip is glue: We know him and her and have a story about them that’s just spicy enough that it lubricates our gluing together: For some reason, since we both know “them,” you might find this news non-boring. If you didn’t know them, really, who cares? But it’s not a matter of fact, it’s a matter of this story applying to OUR mutual friends or family, and we are thus all interested. Because it’s our family. This convoluted reasoning works as a lubricating and intensifying glue for our feeling that we know a secret that “they” don’t know (tee hee) and so we are special and more deeply involved.

More neutral is just catching up to who belongs to who: Mary? That’s Sam’s daughter. Or is it his wife? (It does matter, as glue.) When did we vacation in Yosemite? That was when I was seven. Oh yeah. Fix the time, the place, the memory. Scrapbook. Album. Photograph. Keep it along with the memoirs and the mementos of this or that event or trip. Glue, folks, sociometric glue.

We hunger to feel our collectivity. Our we-ness. We’re bigger, and more coherent. Alone we’re so small, and because we intuitively feel all our weaknesses, we feel weak. Oh, maybe in this or that way we’re strong, we feel ourselves strong, we ourselves admire our talent or muscle, endurance or courage. But we also know (shhh! Don’t tell!) our weaknesses, and there are many. We may be better than x or all the x’s when it comes to y quality, but we keep hidden our awareness that we’re not all that good at quality “z”, and now that you mention it, we vary at our abilities “a” through “w” too!

This, too, then, is part of social depth psychology, the lure, the draw of together-ness. Alfred Adler called it “social interest” and, properly channeled, it serves as a very pro-social force. Negatively channeled (towards scapegoating, for instance, or hating, or gossip) it becomes pro-social for the in-group but in a larger, historical sense, unethical or anti-social.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *