The World Is “Full of Friends”: How to Become More Sociable

Last January, I stayed by myself for most of the month at a condo in Myrtle Beach. It was part of my sabbatical. It was a great time, but, with my family back in Tennessee, it could be lonely.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves without the people who are close to us? They may be travelling. They may have moved. They may have died. How do we process this absence?

According to the ancient philosopher Seneca, philosophy has some resources. He says, “The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellow feeling with all men; in other words, sympathy and sociability” (V, 7). Philosophy trains us to be sociable.

How does philosophy teach us to be more sociable? It teaches us that humans are social beings. This means that humans are made to interact together. So, whenever we meet one, we meet with a person who has been designed to interact with us.

The Greek freed slave and philosopher Epictetus said that we should think of the world as “full of friends.” If our friends depart, we should remember “that everything is full of friends, furthermore, first the gods and then human beings too, who by nature form one family with one another . . . and that we should take delight in those with whom we live, without being upset to see others go away” (Discourses, 3.24). Epictetus reminded his readers of the philosopher Diogenes who was taken captive by pirates as a slave but then “befriended the pirates themselves and tried to reform them” (ibid.).

The point here is to change our mindset. Instead of seeing ourselves as only capable of connecting with a few select people, we see ourselves as designed to connect with all humans. Thus, it is natural for us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

I read Epictetus’ words for the first time at Myrtle Beach last year. After I read them, it began to change my perspective. I talked to the people I met in the hotel or the pool. I treated them as “friends.” I attended a local church and went to a Bible study and a fellowship dinner they had. I made friends with a family that had just moved there. I saw the truth of Epictetus’ dictum that the world is “full of friends.”

What keeps us from seeing the world this way? People don’t always act with the amiableness that is appropriate to their nature. They are cold, unwelcoming, or even hostile.

The key thing here is to recognize that when people act this way, they are mostly harming themselves. They are made to be sociable, but if they act against this, then they are harming themselves, not us. Why? Because we can still be sociable, even if they are not.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius explained the principle this way. “For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth” (Meditations, 2.1). Humans are made to work together. Consequently, “[t]o act against one another then is contrary to nature and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away” (ibid.). One of Marcus Aurelius’ constant themes is that those who act against others act contrary to their social nature and thus harm themselves.

We are made to live and work together with other humans. We do not have to live in isolation. Wherever we go, we will find humans who are designed to interact with us. If they refuse to do this, for whatever reason, we recognize that it primarily harms them, not us. If we can change our mindset to see this things this way, we can be sociable. We can enter into the world with a confidence that the world is “full of friends.”

I’ll never forget the day my eldest daughter started public school. We had homeschooled her for the first 8 grades, and so it was her first time to attend any school. I was nervous. Would she make friends? Would she do alright? When I came to pick her up, she was beaming. “How’d it go?” I asked her.

“Great!” She said. “I made a bunch of friends. I just talked to everybody. If someone didn’t want to talk to me, I just moved on to the next person.” She was living according to her nature.


Leave a Reply