Networking is an inevitable part of life. Sooner or later you will be called to network to build your business, connect with others to share your ideas, speak to friends and form communities that reflect your values.
In the context of business networking, there’s the myth of the self-made person who confidently strolls into an event and gains leads effortlessly. That all successes are down to an individual’s actions, amazing talent, intelligence and relentless drive.
I don’t believe anyone is self-made and neither did Panaetius of Rhodes. Stoic philosopher, master connector and politician, Panaetius was one of the greatest networkers of his day and there’s a lot of insight to be gained in how to connect with people across all mediums.
So, let’s find out what the seventh leader of the Stoic school has to teach us about networking.
Who was Panaetius?
Born into a wealthy family in Rhodes in 185 BC, Panaetius was introduced to philosophy from an early age by his father. The young Panaetius eventually studied under two great Stoic philosophers, Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus.
Diogenes and Antipater were responsible for bringing Stoicism from Greece to Rome, planting a seed that grew strong roots under the later cultivation of their student.
Panaetius recognised the value of what he was learning and used it forge powerful connections across the Roman Empire, most notably with fellow Stoic student Gaius Laelius and the great Roman general Scipio Aemilianus (also known as Scipio Africanus).
Using his power and privilege, Panaetius spread the teachings of Stoicism to the elite of Rome, making it more practical than previous philosophers. His ability to network became legendary and Kai Whiting and Leo Konstantakos provides a great summary of Panaetius’ approach in Being Better: Stoicism For A World Worth Living In:
“Panaetius understood that one of his roles in life was to be a Greek Stoic philosopher charged with mentoring statesmen and generals of the Roman Republic. He did not believe that everyone is (or necessarily should be) born equal when it comes to wealth, health and the various other things Stoics consider to be external to human happiness.
He had no issue with being powerful or wealthy. He understood that the elite would never grant an audience to a poor man. He knew that it was precisely his power, wealth and social accolades that gave him access and authority. So Panaetius leveraged them to get closer to the ears and minds of those in Roman command.
Once he’d obtained a seat and the table, he reminded the powerful (and himself) that most building blocks are placed by others, including those with whom we share no familial ties. If his companions thought otherwise, he called them out on it. He chose his words carefully, striking at the very heart of their social role and the self-made myth. He tried to make sure that everyone in his circle understood that no one, whether a general in war or a leading statesman at home, could have accomplished deeds of great service without the support of his fellow men and women.
He was adamant that there was no such thing as the self-made man and implied believing otherwise was to believe in a mythical creature. Speaking truth to power did not diminish Panaetius’ influence but amplified it. Long after his death, his words would inspire generations of Roman elite, all the way up to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the most famous and powerful Stoic of all time.”
Panaetius’ worldview is further corroborated by Cicero in his De Officiis:
“No one, whether a general in war or a leading statesperson at home, could have accomplished deeds of great service without the support of his fellow human beings. Their great achievements would not have been possible without the cooperation of others.”
Adopting Panaetius’ style of networking
Here are several lessons from Panaetius on how to network across business, friendship, creativity and more.
Form a community of like-minded people
Alongside Scipio and Laelius, Panaetius formed The Scipionic Circle. This was a philosophy club that attracted the most influential politicians, poets and intellectuals of the day.
Scipio hosted guests in his house, paying the bill, while Panaetius led talks and debates that inspired several other figures. This included the historian Polybius and politician Publius Rutilius Rufus.
Historians have long debated the authenticity of the Scipionic Circle, due to Cicero being the primary source in the De Republica and De Amicitia. Like a lot of stories from the ancient world, it’s worth taking this one with a grain of salt but the idea is a worthy one.
The takeaway is that you could consider starting your own Scipionic Circle that is meant to share similar ideas and connects people with the same values.
Business networking doesn’t have to be about pure selling. Networking events and societies can be a place of healthy debates, authentic conversations and a place to be inspired, like the members of The Scipionic Circle did for each other.
Know what your role is
Panaetius helped to established the Stoic idea that each person has a unique prosopon (Greek for character or role) and that each needs to be fulfilled with duty and commitment, regardless of what it is.
He wrote about this idea in his influential Concerning Appropriate Actions and that every person has four roles:
- The first role is that of being a rational human being, which is universal to everyone
- The second role is formed by individual nature e.g. our likes, personality, quirks
- The third role comes from knowing our station and social status (family, location etc)
- The final role is our professional path, the knowledge we acquire and the choices we make
When networking, think about your specific role in the moment. Are you looking to be a mentor to someone? Are you here to help share a new idea? Do you need to refer a specific person to another and be the connector that Panaetius strived to be?
Make the most of your inborn resources
Panaetius lived by the credo of aphormai (inborn resources), which Ryan Holiday gives a great summary of in Lives Of The Stoics:
“Panaetius believed that each person had an inborn desire for leadership, and that we are obligated to fulfil this potential in our own unique way…Humanity is given these instincts towards virtue by nature, and we can thrive and live nobly if we learn to live consistently with our own nature and duties, while making the most of the resources we have been given.
Panaetius, while born into privilege, chose not to settle into that comfortable life of ease. Instead he openly embraced duty and the responsibility of a much broader stage. He took the resources he was given and leveraged them, becoming the best version of himself and contributing as much as he could to the big projects of the time.”
Ask yourself what your inborn resources are. Are you a natural leader? Do you have clout within a certain group? Is there money that you can contribute to a certain cause? Could you use these resources to help someone in a less privileged position?
By answering these kinds of questions, you’ll be able to strengthen your connections with the local community, people in your immediate circle, potential customers and more.
Think like a pankratist
On reflecting how to fulfil his duties, Panaetius used the model of the pankratist to capture the elements of how to live a good life and forge lasting connections. A pankratist was a practitioner of pankration, a Greek form of boxing and wrestling known for its violence.
This model was recorded by Aulus Gellius:
“Of an opinion of the philosopher Panaetius, which he expressed in his second book On Duties, where he urges men to be alert and prepared to guard against injuries on all occasions.
‘The life of men,’ he says, ‘who pass their time in the midst of affairs and who wish to be helpful to themselves and to others, is exposed to constant and almost daily troubles and sudden dangers. To guard against and avoid these one needs a mind that is always ready and alert, such as the athletes have who are called pancratists.
For just as they, when called to the contest, stand with their arms raised and stretched out, and protect their heads and face by opposing their hands as a rampart; and as all their limbs, before the battle has begun, are ready to avoid or to deal blows – so the spirit and mind of the wise man, on the watch everywhere and at all times against violence and wanton injuries, ought to be alert, ready, strongly protected, prepared in times of trouble, never flagging in attention, never relaxing its watchfulness, opposing judgement and forethought like arms and hands to the strokes of fortune and the snares of the wicked, lest in any way a hostile and sudden onslaught be made upon us when we unprepared and unprotected.”
Thinking like a pankratist in networking means accepting combat is inevitable. There will be people you don’t gel with, who challenge your perception of how to do business, who think differently and who promise one thing and then do another.
What’s important to remember is that you can prepare for these blows and work on connecting with people that provide value, give you something new to think about and challenge their perception too.
Key takeaways from Panaetius
- Develop a community that is built on helping each other, living shared values and connecting on a human level.
- Understand your role in a networking context and see how you can be of service to others.
- Embrace your natural talents and circumstances to improve the lives of those you connect with.
- Be prepared to battle with different perspectives and use them to cultivate your character.