From Vol. 1, Issue 5, May 2019
In Stoicism, there are no victims
In Stoicism, you accept whatever happens to you as a given. When outsiders see this, they often assume that Stoics are passive, inactive, and gutless.
From ancient times, the Stoics faced whatever came their way fully and fearlessly. Musonius Rufus was exiled twice. He came back and became probably the most influential philosopher of his time. Epictetus was born a slave and was lame. He was banished (along with all other philosophers). Yet he became a free man, taught some famous people of his time and influenced an emperor. Marcus Aurelius spent most of his last days in the battlefield although he could have easily chosen a life of luxury and sloth.
The Stoics were men of action.
A true Stoic is fearless—not because they have superhuman powers, but because they don’t fritter away their focus by spending time trying to control what they cannot control. Instead they firmly focus on what they do control. Acknowledging that we don’t control everything is not a weakness, but a tool for refocusing our energies on areas under our control.
Our contributing editor, Meredith Kunz, elegantly summarizes this in seven little words:
In Stoicism, you’re never a victim.
A profound statement, in my view. What does this mean in practice, though?
Something happens to us—we lose our jobs, we are struck with cancer or someone is pointing a gun at us. Our immediate response is that this shouldn’t have happened to us. So we try to mentally change what is. If we think about this rationally, we would realize trying to change what has already happened can never work. We already have lost our job, we already have cancer, a terrorist is already pointing a gun at us. There is no time machine we can get into to, travel back, and change it. So what is the point in saying that something shouldn’t have happened, if it already has? Why is someone who understands this considered “passive”?
Stoics apply the same logic to the future. It is unpredictable. While we do what we can to have it our way (preferred indifferent), our strength is the understanding that no matter what happens, we have the resources to cope with it.
So, a Stoic doesn’t care what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. They know they have the resources to cope with what has already happened and what might potentially happen in the future. This knowledge makes them fearless and invincible. A fearless and invincible person is never a victim.
No tyrant, no thief, or court of law can harm someone who places little value on body and possessions.
Epictetus, Discourses I.
People who misunderstand Stoicism tend to believe that this is the end of the story and so Stoics are passive. No, it is not the end of story, but the beginning. Stoics realize that they are not victims and have nothing to fear and so they act. Like all ancient Stoics. Like modern Stoics such as James Stockwell. In the movie, A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks plays the coach of an all-girls baseball team, the Peaches. When he berates a player, she starts crying and Tom Hanks delivers this classic line, “There is no crying in baseball!” It would be nice if, whenever we felt victimized and felt sorry for ourselves, a Stoic coach stood behind us and yelled, “There are no victims in Stoicism!”
Dr. Chuck Chakrapani Editor-in-Chief