From the beginning of its evolution, human beings have been searching for the meaning of happiness. While many may seem this to be an inconsequential questions, others have devoted entire lives to the search for happiness. One such person who devoted a great deal of thought to the question of man's happiness was the famous ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle. His views on ethics, virtue, and happiness not only can be applied to the individual life, or the actions of the state, but in the modern world can be also applied to the workplace. Civic relationships and civic friendships can be the basis of the creation of a great workplace where managers maintain personal relationships with their employees, the employees then feel valued and increase their productivity, and the business as a whole can prosper and flourish.
In his book The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discussed the meaning of happiness and what it meant to live a good life. He asserted that the device which has been invented to create what is good for man is called "politics;" and it "uses the rest of the sciences…so that this end must be the good for man." (Aristotle, I:ii) Aristotle also identified four general means by which people live their lives in order to gain happiness, but stated that only one was a means by which a person could actually attain it. According to Aristotle, it was not political power, wealth, or worldly pleasures by which a person could achieve real happiness, it was living a contemplative life.
Aristotle claimed that those who engaged in a political life do so out of vanity in order to gain personal honor. Because this only serves to inflate a single person's ego, this is considered to be an empty and vain course of action. Two other ways of life that Aristotle believed were equally as useless in attaining happiness were those who engaged in the pursuit of wealth, and those who engaged in the pursuit of pleasure. These types of lives end up enslaving the person who pursues them and an enslaved person cannot achieve true happiness, they only seek to satisfy their master vanity, greed or pleasure. And while they may get some sort of satisfaction from this service, it does not serve to bring goodness to anyone else but oneself. For instance, wealth in and of itself was useless and was seen by Aristotle as something that could only be used for the sake of something else. Therefore, according to Aristotle, happiness cannot be found in the pursuits of a political life, wealth, or pleasure, but in a fourth way of life which he called the "contemplative life."
A contemplative life is one where a person lives their life contemplating how to live a good life, and Aristotle asserted that virtue is integral to living a contemplative life. It is through virtuous acts, repeated over time, that a person "trains" themselves to become virtuous. Just as a musician trains over time to become a better musician, a person can train themselves to become a more virtuous person, or in other words, "…the virtues we get by first exercising them." (Aristotle, II:i ) And the virtues can be either intellectual, or moral virtues. In either case, it is how a person lives their everyday lives that decide how good of a person they will become, and this starts at a very early age. In the case of intellectual virtue, a person can be taught to be virtuous, and then by practicing these traits over time, that person will become a good person, and will contribute good to the community. But in the case of moral virtue, this already exists inside a person and only through constant virtuous activity can this virtue be brought out of a person's nature. While these may seem to be extremely similar, they are indeed different types of virtue with different ways to acquire them.
When it comes to the interaction of individuals, Aristotle discussed the concept of friendship and divided it into two separate aspects: personal and civic. As a concept, friendship can be defined as "a relationship denoting certain virtues, of mutual affection, of goodwill, of a propensity to seek each other's company, of joint endeavors and shared history, of mutual trust and help when needed…." (Healy, 2005, pp.1-2) How this definition translates into the personal realm is fairly simple, however, how it translates into the civic realm is not so easy to understand. Personal relationships are the most basic connections that people have and usually begin with the family and extend over time to friends. But the incorporation of friendship into the civic arena is a much more complicated situation. Aristotle argued that the function of civic friendships were to help maintain justice, law, and virtue within the state, but in the modern world the state can include much more than the government; the state can include the local community, or even the place one is employed.
Civic relationships, while composed of interactions that occur between people that are by definition not friends, must be treated in a similar way to personal friendships. These types of relationships must also be based on the same kind of aspects as personal ones, such as virtue, mutual affection, goodwill, company, shared history, and mutual trust; but are carried out by citizens of the community. Citizens, when they view their relationship to the community as one based on civic friendship, will tend to concentrate their attention on matters of the community such as public policy and other things important to the community. Citizens must be "good men, concerned with virtue and united in a shared conception of the good." (Lynch, 2005, p.26) But this type of friendship can also be characterized as a type of "advantage friendship," where "the civic community is formed because of the common advantage that its members derive from it." (Cooper, 1991) In this form of civic friendship members of the community come together to support community institutions which benefit all members of the community.
But it is important to recognize that while some civic friendships are based on the concept of conferring benefits on others so that an individual will, in turn, receive benefits from the actions of others, other are not. Individuals often feel that civic friendships must be based upon mutual support of others in the community with the intent that a strong community can bring benefits to the individual living within that community. But if civic friendships are to be strong and lasting, they cannot be entirely based upon the advantage that an individual receives from them, they must also be based on virtue. Individual relationships that contain the features of trust, reciprocity, a shared history, and special mutual concern are formed not because of something that a person can receive but because of something a person can give. Friends must give of themselves, not because of what they may receive in return, they give because they are friends.
Many people believe that when Aristotle describes the "state" he meant the government, and while it is partly true, there are many other aspects of the state which can be defined as "a bounded community of citizens who share common goods, clearly distinct in form from the family and other associations." (Honohan, 2002, p.15) With this in mind the state can be more than the government or the local community, it can even be defined as the place of employment. And if the workplace is a place where civic relationships can be found, then the rules regarding civic friendships must also be involved.
So how can the principles discussed by Aristotle be incorporated into the workplace? According to the website "Great Place to Work," great workplaces must have a number of aspects found within them. From the employee's perspective the workplace must revolve around the concept of trust. "Trust is the defining principle of great workplaces -- created through management's credibility, the respect with which employees feel they are treated, and the extent to which employees expect to be treated fairly." ("What is a Great Workplace") Along with trust, the employees must also have pride in what they do and enjoy the people they work with. On the other hand is the management of the workplace which has a different perspective on what makes a great workplace. Firstly, from a manager's perspective, a great workplace is one where the employees give their personal best, work together as a team, or family, but most importantly, the workplace achieves organizational goals. Management represents the company and the needs of the company; mainly achieving whatever organizational goals are necessary for the flourishing of that company, must be of major importance.
Why would a company want to create a great workplace? The answer is that they benefit from it. When a company stresses that their managers should build personal relationships with their employees this is not so that…