I just returned from a week sailing with four long-time friends – each one a leader. Took along Daniel Klein’s little book Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life.
In his early ‘70’s, after retirement Klein wrote about his extended return to the Greek Island of Hydra where he lived for a time as a young man. He packed a few of his favorite books including some with advice from the philosopher Epicurus for living a fulfilled life. It’s not what we usually associate with ‘Epicureanism.’
While there he noticed a regular patron in a restaurant — an old man leisurely talking with his various companions ‘without,’ Klein observes, ‘wanting anything from them.’
‘Wanting nothing from one’s friends,’ he concludes, ‘is fundamentally different from the orientation of a person who is still immersed in professional life with its relationships.”
However friendly we may be with one another on the job or in professional life, ‘we are,’ claims Klein, ‘in service of a goal that has little if nothing to do with genuine friendship’.
I remember a comment from a leader who after assuming an assignment said that even though friendliness was essential to getting things done, making new friends became impossible. His only friends were those he knew before and outside of his professional role.
It was after Klein’s retirement when he was no longer a boss nor had a boss, that he, like the group he saw in a Greek Island restaurant, came to enjoy the ‘pleasures of companionship’ – having time for friends for no reason other than being together.
I don’t think genuine friendship needs wait for retirement. At any age and place, the ‘pleasures of companionship,’ of keeping and making new friends, ‘wanting nothing in return,’ is there for anyone who escapes what Klein describes as ‘the prison of everyday affairs.’
Positions of authority and busy schedules need not preclude genuine friendship if we will take time to get away from our jobs and professional relationships to spend time with friends ‘without wanting anything from them.’ That’s a lot more than just being friendly.
By the end of our sailing week the five of us began planning to get together again next year. As much as we all enjoy sailing, we recognized that for us, sailing is a means to a more important end.