“True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one’s self; and, in the next, from the friendship of a few select companions” (Joseph Addison).
OUR HAPPINESS NEEDS A LITTLE PRIVACY, BUT IT ALSO NEEDS “THE FRIENDSHIP OF A FEW SELECT COMPANIONS,” AS ADDISON SAYS. The qualities of character that we nurture in private are not meant for our benefit alone; they’re meant to be used and enjoyed within the context of relationships with others. Whatever we are within the privacy of our own hearts, that person should touch and influence other human beings in widening circles of contact. And those who occupy the innermost of these circles are our “companions.”
The word “companion” is actually a colorful word. We get it from the Latin companio, which was a compound of two words: com (“together”) + panis (“bread”). A companion, then, is someone with whom we “break bread,” that is, a close associate or comrade. Looking at it from a slightly different angle, our companions are those who “accompany” us on the road that we have to travel. They’re our “company.”
Companionableness. What are the qualities of a good companion? Well, as we suggested in yesterday’s reading, one of them is a respect for our privacy. Good companions enjoy our company, but they also honor our solitude. But there are other traits as well, and almost all of them are virtues of character: sympathy, understanding, sense of humor, kindness, enjoyment of life, curiosity, and many more.
Companionship. Companionable qualities may be delightful, but they’re not much good unless they’re used. And so what we need more of in the world is not merely companionableness; we need more actual companionship. We need — all of us do — to engage actively in the conduct of companionship. It takes work and it’s not always convenient, but the value of it is worth more than diamonds and rubies.
Whoever you are, there’ll be those around you who need you to “accompany” them in some way. They need your companionship. And, in truth, you need theirs too! It’s a fact: human beings are social creatures, and we need a few good folks with whom we can “break bread.”
“Good company and good discourse are the very sinews of virtue” (Izaak Walton).