This is not the first article about filotimo nor will it be the last.
I was propelled to open a dialogue around this noun with such impressive depth and emotion when well-known Australian author and activist, Sarah Wilson, recently mentioned filotimo on her Instagram following her appearance on Q and A’s recent episode: The Age of Loneliness.
It impressed me because someone who is not Greek (to my knowing!) sparked a thought in my mind. Is filotimo the key ingredient to ending this ‘age of loneliness’? And why hasn’t this been discussed sooner?
In today’s society the commodification of everything runs so very deep. We have confused the meaning of a good with a commodity and the value of exchange has triumphed experiential value. The exchange of a transaction has dictated the way for many of our most simple interactions. “What will this cost me?” and “What will be the exchange in our transaction?” – are some of our thoughts on a sub-conscious level.
As the world strives for greater productive capacity each year and we all strive for a sense of financial security, the world is ever-changing, moving into the fourth industrial revolution, tackling a global pandemic, a climate crisis, greater inequality, online bullying etc etc etc. All of this whilst governments and economist are freaking out about their GDP.
Anxiety, depression, loneliness and generally feeling queasy are feelings that just keep skyrocketing in these times.
Have we all forgotten that the well-being of a society is what constitutes a healthy economy? And what drives our well-being if not our relationships (among other things)? And what drives our relationships and interactions, propelling them forward, making them stronger and achieving greater intimacy? Is there an element missing?
This is where I’d like to remind you about filotimo.
Filotimo – Φιλότιμο. You’ve heard it before. It’s one of those words that gets lost in translation. The meaning never gets fully conveyed, so they say. It’s encapsulation goes beyond language and perhaps falls victim to the sea of cultural frame shifting, which broadly refers to the phenomenon of shifting from one cultural mindset to another.
Etymologically, the first part, ‘filo’ in Homeric times, meant to behave politely, to host, to welcome, to kiss. What is a kiss? For is it not a loving gesture? Isn’t that what it means to host, to welcome someone?
To me ‘filo’ boils down to ‘for the love of’.
The second part, ‘timo’ simply refers to honour.
When you put the two together, what transpires is: the love, or even, being honourable with absolute open arms. The word implies a significant – an honourable – relationship to the principles of honour.
And so, one then needs to take a step back and define a relationship with honour. I would like to ask you, what does honour and being honourable mean to you?
Generally speaking, for Greeks, filotimo is something that has been passed through generations, it’s inherited in their DNA. Filotimo, a noun, a characteristic of someone that exists without effort. Simply, it is a way of being, a way of loving and welcoming.
Furthermore, filotimo is the love for being honourable.
We all have our own experiences with filotimo. I remember it from the way my pappou would greet and engage with various shop owners and strangers along our journeys. He would see them. He would hear them. For that moment in time, he was genuinely invested in them and was elated, even grateful by their interaction.
I understand that not all Greek people live with filotimo, but I remember my first experience in Greece. It was an interesting rollercoaster to say the least. So many expectations for a long-awaited reunion with a country, a culture, people and roots I had never met. People who didn’t have to spend time with me, did. They opened their doors to me, their hearts, their time, and of course their kitchen.
To be honest, my experience growing up Aussie-Greek in Australia, was cold in comparison. I was so overwhelmed by this generosity and fuss over making me feel welcome, I actually experienced several anxiety attacks. Why do they want to be so nice and welcoming and loving? They barely know me! My heart burst open and I didn’t know how to process this kindness.
It made me realise that for too long I was on that classic hamster-wheel path, lacking legitimate connection with people. I had turned sour within, a case of prolonged loneliness and meaningful connection outside of career parameters. It’s biological, we need to be interconnected. Companionship – parea παρἐα- is an extension of what filotimo embodies.
You don’t have to be Greek to embody filotimo. Now more than ever, we need filotimo. We live in an era of social media, that fools us into thinking we are connected. The current pandemic and the coinciding restrictions have stripped the moments and nuances of actual connection away from us.
Don’t you think, that to live with filotimo as if it were just as natural as breathing, we could close the gap of loneliness, anxiety, depression? It doesn’t matter our background or our endeavours, but everyone we meet, including our self-talk to ourselves, should be met with dignity and humility. Our interaction must be that of experiential value, nothing else.
Living in Melbourne, Australia, I can’t wait for the moment when I can come out of lockdown and greet people with open arms again. Interact, study, work with respect and dignity. I’ll stop myself in my tracks if I hear my inner rhetoric beginning to voice anything other than that and I will live by the ways of my pappou and his filotimo instilled in me.
I’d love to hear your feedback, ideas and experiences. Good, bad and ugly.
If this article brought something up for you, please get in touch with:
Beyondblue.org.au 1300 22 4636
Lifeline.org.au 13 11 14
If it’s an emergency 000
www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en 1833 456 4566
If it’s an emergency 911
www.cyprussamaritans.org 8000 7773
suicidepreventionlifeline.org 1800 273 TALK
If it’s an emergency 911