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From Vol. 2, Issue 3, March 2020

Is ignoring violence Stoic? What should a Stoic do?


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We are the same as we always have been 

It was no easier thirteen thousand years ago. We live within the same ranges of tension, going as far as we can without snapping regardless of the century or millennia. Bronze Age Ötzi was cut and wounded days before his death, and a flint arrowhead had been shot through his back into his shoulder; he probably bled to death where it cut an artery. Nine-thousand-year-old Kennewick Man in Washington State had a stone projectile embedded in his hip, the wound healed, bone grown over the artifact. A human burial on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea revealed a skeleton pierced by fifteen barbed points made of bone…. These were no easy deaths. 

Craig Childs, Atlas of a Lost World 

Our violent ancestry 

Our ancestors were violent. Really violent. They didn’t have the sophisticated weapons we do now—and they had no exposure to the kinds of violent movies and first-person shooter games that we now entertain ourselves with. But they inflicted a lot of damage with spears and arrows, according to those studying prehistoric humans. 

A lot of that violence likely had to do with competition—for resources, food, land, power, status. It would seem that our competitive and violent nature is deeply rooted in how we evolved. It’s enough to bring about a permanent bad mood, if your goal is to live according to nature, in the Stoic way. 

Two Stoic ideas 

As a Stoic, however, there’s more to unpack here: I think that two Stoic-inspired ideas could help counteract this kind of competitiveness and conflict. 

First: Human nature is not ONLY competitive and violent. It’s also capable of working together, collaborating to reach ambitious goals. Our greatest achievements on a grand scale have been built as a group, the more diverse the better; and our private accomplishments are most satisfying when shared with friends, family, and a broader community. 

Second: To find peace as humans of any era, we must work to consciously let go of the constant striving for an overabundance of material goods, power, status, understanding that these things are a preferred indifferent. As long as our needs are met, we have the essence of what it takes to survive. What is most valuable is at our core: Our moral intention and our ethical choices, which take us closer to the virtues. 

Competition and external validation 

It’s people who feel their worth must be validated by others who engage in the most intense competition. When we know our own goodness is generated through our own minds, we can cut through the noise of pure striving. When we ignore others’ opinions, this is much easier. When we see that money and things don’t provide happiness, we can let go of materialism. 

As we move into the future, it is the “us” vs. “them” dynamic of our increasingly polarized world that Stoics—and all those who care about the virtues and an ethical worldview—can work to combat. 

Don’t wait for others to take the lead 

How? Don’t wait for others to stop waving spears. Work together to show you share common humanity, no matter our mutual differences. Seek to demonstrate that “us” and “them” are all humans, and that humans are capable of doing great things together. On the ground: pick a community-serving project and work to persuade a multiplicity of people to collaborate on it. 

In terms of our own behavior: As models of good practice, we can live the Stoic admonition to partner with others to create a better “flow of life” in our communities; we can turn away from insults without engaging the bad passions, such as anger, offering a rational correction; and we can remember that not all people have accessed their reason, forgive them, and (whenever possible) work to enlighten them. 

By Meredith A. Kunz, author of The Stoic Mom blog ( 

Twitter: @thestoicwoman