In the Neighborhood of Others
Al-Farabi, the Second Master, is probably best known today, if he is known at all, as the man most responsible for preserving the classical Greek texts of antiquity during the Middle Ages. It’s his name you want to drop at cocktail parties when providing your diversity and cosmopolitan bona fides if the subject of how it was actually Medieval Islamic scholars who rescued Western civilization from the Dark Ages ever comes up in conversation. Though if that’s the type of boring talk going on at the parties you attend maybe it’s time to make some new friends.
At any rate, Al-Farabi wrote extensively on many subjects and one of his subjects relates to the main theme of today’s reading in War and Peace: the relationship between community and individual human happiness. Al-Farabi, according to Amber Haque of United Arab Emirates University, wrote that, “an isolated individual could not achieve all the perfections by himself, without the aid of other individuals. It is the innate disposition of every man to join another human being in the labor he ought to perform. Therefore, to achieve what he can of that perfection, every man needs to stay in the neighborhood of others and associate with them.”
We see this in today’s chapter.
So often in War and Peace whenever a character retreats into himself he suffers. Consider Prince Andrei, who, in the earlier chapters of the book is so isolated, bored, and suffering from a debilitating ennui. Contrast him with the very sociable Natasha Rostov. In comparison, she’s an absolute delight, as she has been in pretty much all her appearances so far. A big part of this, I believe, is her sociability. We’re told that she loves Iogel’s ball and that she is “not in love with anyone in particular, but with everyone.” So happy is she to be in community with others that she takes the position of first couple and dances with Iogel to get the party started. She also eventually dances with Denisov. Overall it’s a very happy time for her. It’s happy time for all.
Community may very well be the most effective anti-depressant. Keep this in mind when you’re around other people, even strangers. Cultivate community and social cooperation. Reach out. Make a new friend. Be a Natasha.
So long as we draw breath, so long as we live among men, let us cherish humanity. Let us not cause fear to any man, nor danger; let us scorn losses, wrongs, abuse, and taunts, and let us endure with heroic mind our short-lived ills.
Seneca, On Anger III