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From Vol. 1, Issue 5, May 2019

Resisting hate, the Stoic way

Stoic Reflections || MEREDITH KUNZ

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Gun violence motivated by hate has devastated far more than one community. Whether it is in New Zealand or Pittsburgh, people across the world are filled with horror and disbelief. 

Why does it happen? People are alienated from family, work-places, communities. They feel victimized by “the other” and are fearful of losing their status, job, or identity. And in their quest to connect somehow with other human beings, their minds are twisted into a victim mentality fueled by hate. Fear becomes hate, which makes people feel powerful, and precipitates horrific actions. 

The source of good and evil 

Stoic thinkers spoke of a very different approach, centered around actively practicing justice, wisdom, courage, compassion, and self-control. These are the virtues I try to live by. 

I’m reminded of Epictetus’ quote about the “real good or evil” of human beings. Someone asked Epictetus if there is a difference between a human and an animal, such as a stork. “Yes, surely.” Epictetus replied. “How so?” See whether it be not in rationality of action, in social instincts, fidelity, honor, providence, judgment. 

Where, then, is the real good or evil of human beings? 

Just where this difference lies. If this distinguishing trait is preserved, and remains well fortified, and neither honor, fidelity, nor judgment is destroyed, then he himself is likewise saved; but when any one of these is lost or demolished, he himself is lost also. 

Epictetus, Discourses, 1.28 

Those virtues define humanity. We must work to “preserve” them, even when it seems more appealing to give in to the latest conspiracy theory. We can cultivate courage, refusing the psychologically easy fix that extremists proffer to make some people feel superior. 

Stoic philosophy demonstrates distinct ways that you can shift your way of thinking. You can refuse to participate in demonizing people who are different. You can decide to value other people, no matter their background, as members of the human family. 

In Stoicism, you are never a victim 

Just as important: In Stoicism, you are never a victim. That’s one of its greatest appeals. As long as you have breath left in your body, you can be a virtuous person pursuing the good—and a potential role model for others. That is especially important during dark times. 

Using your inner strength 

Victims of crime or persecution or disease (or in ancient times, banishment or political execution) have tapped into Stoic thinking to endure and to stand for what’s right. They used their inner freedom of thought and judgment to take back power from people who tried to insult, harm, or kill them. Consider Socrates, Seneca, or Cato, or more recently, Nelson Mandela, Gamdjo, Martin Luther King Jr., or Rosa Parks. 

Today, all the best elements in us—justice, wisdom, courage, self-control, compassion—are lacking from our public rhetoric. I strive to live by those ideals, teach them to my children, express them through writing, speaking out, volunteering, and voting. We must find a way to turn people away from hatred-based beliefs, actions, and power-seeking through violence, and remain rooted in the good. 

In Stoicism, you’re never a victim. Meredith A. Kunz,, @thestoicwoman