Being a good person is about connection
Learning to stay calm and not fly off the handle is an essential skill. But the Stoic ideal goes beyond that. Being a man of virtue is the only thing the Sage (that perhaps unattainable ideal) needs to be happy. He chooses to maintain his character even in the face of suffering.
That’s a hard pill to swallow.
But Stoic virtue is more than living ethically. It’s also about living in harmony with Nature. But what does that mean?
Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius writes in his Meditations that everything in the universe is interwoven, so we are all connected and stand in relation to all things. We can think of others as part of a large extended family. Being in relationship to the whole, we shouldn’t do anything anti-social.
He also wrote that anger is a sign of pain, weakness, and disconnection. Anger only causes more suffering, but there’s strength in keeping your cool. Kindness is invincible if it’s without pretense.
Being understanding of others may be a surprising aspect of Stoicism. But that doesn’t mean getting sucked into people’s psychodramas. Ways to avert escalating a situation are to avoid blaming others and to describe the situation without judgmental language. And admitting the limits of our knowledge.
Putting things in perspective
In Stoic philosophy, most things aren’t inherently good or bad. It’s how you use it. This neutrality is often described with the English word “indifferent,” which might not be the best translation.
The storm, of course, didn’t consciously destroy your house. A storm does what it does. But what if someone intentionally harms you? Stoics still say this is no reason to become bitter.
The storm or the person who hurt you are indifferent in the sense that you don’t have to compromise your values when responding to the situation. But this is not indifference in the sense of feeling nothing.
On the other hand, Stoics don’t want to be controlled by their passions. Instead they seek tranquility.
Understanding control is also important. Onetime slave turned Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote that most things are not up to us. And though we can exert varying degrees of influence in other areas, our desired outcome isn’t guaranteed. But our goals, values, and actions are up to us. It’s important to know the difference, and what to do about it.
If that sounds familiar it’s because someone cribbed it and called it the Serenity Prayer.
Awareness is key to managing emotions
Emotions, of course, are not fully within our conscious control. Stoics teach that we first notice emotions physically as our neck tenses or heart rate and breathing increase. We can’t prevent that, but we can become more aware of our emotions as they first arise and try not to get overwhelmed.
Being aware of how we feel and why we feel that way, we can decide whether our motivations are reasonable and then act in a positive rather than destructive manner. This is especially important for anger, which Stoics see as a particularly destructive emotion.
But that’s a lot of work. Maybe it’s easier to fake it and repress your emotions. Which is like a house newly painted on the outside while the inside is trashed. That’s stoic in the colloquial, lowercase “s” sense of the word.
You are what you think
There’s great value in Stoicism’s insight that we can’t be truly happy unless we live an ethical life – and that there’s no virtue in vying for control. But there is value in learning to put suffering in perspective so we don’t react in ways that cause further destruction.
Marcus Aurelius summed up the Stoic perspective when he wrote that, “All is as thinking makes it – and you control your thinking. Remove your judgments and there is calm.” He said reason is like sunlight. It flows in all directions and illuminates everything it touches.
It’s not surprising to learn that Stoicism influenced modern day cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Epicureans famously disagree with Stoics, however. Epicureans believe that we should maximize pleasure and minimize pain. But that doesn’t mean decadence. Epicurus taught that moderation rather than indulgence is the key to maximizing pleasure.
Still, Epicureans think Stoics are austere. Marcus Aurelius’s response is important, though. Bad people often enjoy pleasure while good people suffer. Avoiding pain can lead to fear of what might happen in the future, while pursuing pleasure can lead to taking advantage of others. Besides, doing the right thing is often difficult.
Source: 30dB.com – Marcus Aurelius
“While stoicism comes in around break even in social media Marcus Aurelius is well into positive territory with discussion on him surrounding life learnings and the principles of stoicism. Looks like Dave’s choice of a figurehead was spot on.” – Howard K 30dB
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