In today’s internet society, we have the possibility to work wherever we are and whatever the time. We lawyers are often expected to answer to an email within the hour. The temptation to always be online and “just” do that last thing can be substantial.
As a business leader, it is important for me to create a company culture where it is considered something good to have free time, to rest and do something else than working. I am of the opinion that a fresh, rested and stimulated brain thinks better and more wisely. To think wisely requires time, calm and distance – none of which you have if you are stressed and tired. Also from a purely human standpoint, it is important to have balance in life.
For the people of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, Arcadia was a place that symbolized the good and simple life – a place for rest and thought. Arcadia is a landscape on the Greek island Peleponnesos. The landscape of Arcadia, with its cultivations, sheep and shepherds, was considered a place untouched by civilization. In Nicholas Poussin’s famous painting from around 1640 we see three men dressed as shepherds and a woman reading the inscription “Et in Arcadia Ego” (Even in Arcadia, I exist) – a memento mori that we should enjoy life.
In the best seller of the Enlightenment, Voltaire’s Candide, this notion was carried forward in the famous maxime ”il faut cultiver son jardin”. The garden that we must cultivate could be flowers and plants, our own spiritual development, or both. How do one find one’s place, then, one’s own Arcadia? The king’s advice in Candide is: “quand on est passablement quelque part, il faut y rester”. When you can cope with somewhere, stay with it. For me, our country house Ullaberg at Båven is such a place!
I am convinced that we all need an Arcadia – a place to relax, read, think and talk to each other about something else than work.
Sometimes you need to set boundaries to dare to be in your Arcadia. The company culture must be such that employees feel that they can put such boundaries. Not like a company lawyer told me at a lunch yesterday:
When I worked at a law firm and had small kids, I felt it was expected of me to work as much as those who did not have children.
Thoughts during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment about Arcadia and caring for one’s life and soul are just as important in our internet time as they were then. 16th century philosopher Michel de Montaigne is given the last words in my thoughts, when he says:
I want death take me planting my cabbages, careless of him, but less of my unfinished garden.
Author: Jonas Bergh