‘If you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company’ is a very interesting quote because of all its possible interpretations. Being lonely is a very negative feeling. In fact, in many indigenous tribes, isolation is one of the worst punishments a lawbreaker can face. Loneliness is such a dreaded feeling because high levels of stress hormones are released in your brain, which can overload your system, leading to possible madness and an inherited fear of loneliness. This way, ‘no company’ can be seen as ‘bad company’, although it does depend on the person, as some people react differently to being alone to others.
On the topic of mind-set, some people may have imaginary friends who keep them company when they are alone. These may be good friends who listen to them and all their worries (‘good company’) or bad friends who inflict unsureness on that person (‘bad company’). This depends on the person though, as most people may not have imaginary friends. However, it could also be talking about personal ghosts and/or regrets that are ‘bad company’ to you because of things you have done.
So, because of this, it is almost impossible not to be ‘lonely when you’re alone’. In a literal sense, it is also impossible to be ‘in bad company’ when you are in no company, so one of the projected meanings of this quote could be that no company is bad company. This is quite possible, as we are a very sociable species, and as was mentioned above, we dread being alone for long periods of time. This can be seen in films such as ‘Touching the Void’, where one of the characters was alone for several days, and was seriously suffering from a lack of company. However, this depends on the person, and so for some people, ‘no company’ isn’t necessarily ‘bad company’.
However, you, as a person, could be seen as company, and therefore ‘bad company’ may not necessarily mean ‘no company’. If you are your own company, you may feel alone because you, as a person, are ’bad’. One interpretation of this could be in the sense that you aren’t a very nice person anyway, and your conscience is catching up with you. Humans are unique in that we have a sense of right and wrong, and although we may be able to escape it for short periods of time, we can never completely escape from it. However, everything comes from somewhere, so the fact that you may be ‘bad company’ is probably due to the people around you being a bad influence on you.
Another similar interpretation of this is that you may regret things that you have done, or even chances that you haven’t taken, or choices where you chose wrongly. Again, you find it hard to be by yourself because it is harder to distract yourself from thinking about them, and therefore you are lonely because there is no-one to help sort them out.
By the ‘being in bad company’ part, Jean-Paul Sartre may even be talking about the company you are in when you are not alone. If these people make you question yourself or feel uncomfortable, especially when you’re alone, this can be an interpretation of ‘bad company’. ‘Bad company’ doesn’t necessarily mean people who smoke, steal or take drugs (to name a few), although being around these people or being peer pressured into doing these things could be a sign of being in bad company. The other main class of ‘bad company’ are people who pressure you into feeling like you should look ‘cool’, or shun you if you don’t. This can make you feel bad and unsure of yourself at the best of times, but when you are alone, these can upset you more because you will tend to dwell on negative thoughts like this more.
‘Alone’ can also have different definitions to ‘being by yourself’. If you feel that you don’t fit in, have no friends or that no-one understands you, you can be ‘alone’ even when you are surrounded by other people. This links to the ‘bad company’ part, because if you feel that you have no friends, obviously either the people around you are not ‘good’ enough to try and be your friend, or you could possibly have had previous friendships that have made you feel insecure about making friends. This could mean you shy away even if someone actively approaches you, showing that your previous friends were bad company.
To most religious denominations, there is at least one being who is more powerful than you, and is always with you. One example is Christians, who believe that God is omniscient (all-knowing) among other things, and therefore always with you. This would mean that for Christians, even if you have no human company, you are still with God, and so you could never feel truly lonely. Your religion plays a significant part in how you feel in different situations, and even that depends on how strongly you actually believe in that religion. Another example is the Divine in Hinduism, with a very similar character. However, if you believe that there is no higher power, and everything just happens by chance, you really are alone when you have no-one with you. Through his quote, Sartre could be saying that ‘if you have a religion, you are never truly lonely, but if you don’t, then you are in bad company’.
Sometimes, when you are alone, you can just sink into your thoughts. This can lead to you worrying about things you cannot change, generally being depressed and feeling lonely. Going back to the ‘you are company’ idea, you are not being very good company to yourself, because you are allowing yourself to wallow in your sadness. Instead, you should do something beneficial for yourself, for example going for a run or getting some work done. Running can improve your mood and help you to get fitter, improving your self-esteem. Doing these things is a way of being good to yourself, and helping you to not fall into the ‘bad company’ category.
To conclude, I think that it is a very complex quote, and only by talking to Jean-Paul Sartre can we really understand what it was intended to mean. Other than that, I think that each person should take their own interpretation of it, and do what they can to understand and help others with it.