I have been avoiding the idea of Stoicism for a while, but the concept keeps reappearing over and over again.
As a part of a series of philosophies from Hellenistic times, stoicism could be group together with skepticism and hedonism, the last two inspired in line with Socrates thought.
In Forbes, an entrepreneur tells the story of a US veteran who was held prisoner by Vietnamese forces in the 60’s. He used stoicism to overcome pain, memorizing the teachings from Epictetus’s book The Enchiridion – translated means The Handbook.
Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are the most predominant figures in this ancient philosophy. Meditations is one of the books of Marcus Aurelius written meanwhile he was emperor of the Roman empire, as notes of stoic philosophy for himself. The book was never intended to be published.
Epictetus was a former slave, after gaining freedom he opened a school in Greece.
The level of contrast where a philosophy is practised by a former slave and a benevolent roman emperor is quite astounding, moreover being a core and current references for this philosophy.
Why is important?
Hedonism is the most powerful philosophy today, for the vast majority of adults. In some cases, adulthood is replaced by a prolonged adolescence, where the lack of responsibility and meaning, is the norm.
The maximization on feeling pleasure offset the potential harm of those same pleasures could give us.
A usual contraposition could be a feeling of euphoria against a long-lasting satisfaction, the former could damage the latter because an instant pleasure is prefered over long-lasting satisfaction, mainly because the psychological reward for an instant pleasure is greater than following a plan.
Also, pleasures, when they are overused, came with guilt from our puritans beginnings of judeo-christian roots. Leading to question why we had the idea of enjoying those pleasures in the first place.
A good example of this could be saving every month getting the satisfaction for following a premeditated plan, against the idea of using all the salary immediately for dining out or travelling.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.
Here is where stoicism is relevant. In a similar style of minimalism philosophy, stoicism focus on the self, in ways to facing life with responsibility, rehearse the worst case scenarios and being prudent on pleasures. If I already know what is the worst that is going to happen, Why will I be afraid?
The main worry of stoicism is not what other people could think of me, rather is “I’m doing what is right in terms of society and nature?”
Tim Ferris – successful voice of entrepreneurship – has used stoicism to develop a frame for evaluating life and future plans. Also, the philosophy has helped him to overcome depression and being able to being successful on his own terms. The Ted talk explaining the goal setting frame has more than 4 million views.
The philosophy is a frame focused on the practice of certain principles rather than only wishful thinking. The idea is developing a frame where antagonize hedonism and tries to uplift morals to live a quasi-heroic life.
Coming back to Epictetus, The Handbook have some interesting remarks to mention:
- The only concern about things in your inner power. Defined as thought, impulse, will to get and will to avoid.
Aiming then at these high matters, you must remember to attain them requires more than ordinary effort; you will have to give up some things entirely, and put off others for the moment.
Why worrying about things we don’t have any control. Assume that inevitable things would happen anyway, such as sickness, pain or even death prepare us to for peace of mind, or as stoics define Apatheia.
- Judgment o events rather events themselves are the cause of pain.
For instance, death is nothing dreadful [..] the only dreadful thing about it is men’s judgment that it is dreadful.
- Leave impressions of yourself behind.
You are but an impression, and not all what you seem to be
- Search and find your own faculties to tackle an event.
When anything happens to you, always remember to turn yourself and ask what faculty you have to deal with it. […]
If you train yourself in this habit your impressions will not carry you away.
- Be proud from impressions coming from you own nature
When you deal with your impressions in accord with nature, then you may be proud indeed, for your pride will be in in a good which is your own.
Finally, I think Seneca summarize the philosophy in the best way possible with the following statement:
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”