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From Vol. 1, Issue 1, January 2019

Coping with others’ judgments: A Stoic approach

Stoic Reflections || MEREDITH KUNZ

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Social media and AI judge us all the time 

In the series Black Mirror, there’s an infamous episode, Nosedive, where the main character is judged minute-to-minute by the people around her. Using a social media-style app, the woman’s peers add or subtract points to her total. A cascade of missteps, largely outside of her control, results in a lower score—and, as a result, a disturbing downgrade in her real life. 

This sounds like a futuristic nightmare, but it’s already happening in some countries. Artificial intelligence is quickly combining with facial recognition and social media to become tools of control. 

What should a Stoic do? 

This situation is of great concern to me as a human being—and as a follower of Stoic practices. It makes me wonder: How can we, as individuals, effectively cope with others’ judgments? 

Ancient Stoics, with Epictetus the strongest voice among them, teach us that we have no control over what other people think or do, and therefore should ignore others’ opinions. 

In day-to-day life, this is hard. People’s judgments happen everywhere, and they affect our lives in real ways, costing us jobs, school admittances, relationships, and more. 

We are crushed by others’ opinions 

As a student and a young professional, I’d slave over projects trying to perfect them, working so hard to please others that my own unique imprint got lost. I wanted my efforts to be bulletproof. 

But critiques of my work (and of me) inevitably happened. Though I tried to maintain a brave face, I felt crushed inside. That was before I accepted that I couldn’t control or change others’ reactions, and that I could still live a good life no matter what they thought—before I began practicing a Stoic life philosophy. 

Developing core principles 

Now, as I have developed a more self-reliant idea about my own value and core principles, I’ve come to see interactions with others as a dance with an often-unreliable partner. 

The ancients knew this. Marcus Aurelius wrote eloquently about what needs to be done: As humans, we are built to work together in society, and so we must balance our wishes and drives with others’. That means we need to put up with people who are separated from reason while still maintaining an inner focus on what we believe in. 

So we have to learn this dance. Even if our feet are often stepped on, bringing involuntary tears to our eyes. 

A lifelong project 

This is a lifelong project. We can interact with coworkers, gathering input but without letting their agendas penetrate deeply into our ruling centers. 

We can learn from mentors yet avoid being controlled by their perspectives—asking ourselves, like Socrates, “Is it true?” We can share what we create, and hope that others will respond to the work as intended or will offer ideas to inform us—but we can’t expect this to happen. We can be close with family, yet still follow our own paths. 

Living a self-reliant life 

The hard truth is that we must learn to ignore how others judge us and endure the consequences. When I feel I am being judged by others, I remind myself: This is yet another opportunity to exercise my core principles—and to live a self-reliant life. 

Meredith Alexander Kunz is a writer in Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @thestoicwoman. She blogs at