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The goal of Stoicism is happiness, living the good life. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism defined it elegantly:
Our life is short. When we look back on our lives, we see that ever ything has moved too fast. We are born, get married, bring up children, acquire things, and die of old age or of other causes – all within a short span of time.
Many years ago, Maureen, a friend of mine at that time, seemed to be constantly upset and ang ry about the state of the world, especially about social injustices. Wishing to cheer her up, I quoted the following verses from Dhammapada (a sort of Buddhist Enchiridion), hoping that it would calm her down and let her see things from a different perspecive:
Humans are fallible. In fact, the Stoics thought that we are so fallible that none of us ever gets to be completely virtuous. They said only a sage can be virtuous and, for all practical purposes, no one ever gets to be a sage.
The portrait of a Stoic
Who is a Stoic?
As Covid-19 seems to be winding down, our return to normalcy is once again threatened, this time by the Russo-Ukranian war. What should a Stoic do? Where does a Stoic stand on this?
Stoics believe that one needs nothing outside of oneself to be happy and fulfilled. The moment we say we need something outside of ourselves to be happy – be it wealth, health, power, relationship or whatever – we become immediately dependent on others, on our circumstances, or on some external event happening in a way we would like.
The Stoics taught us to lead a virtuous life. But why? The purpose of virtue is presumably to enable us to lead the good life. However, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of feeling superior because one practices virtue, which may not be a virtuous thing to do. The temptation to let others know of one’s superiority can be irresistible.
“Stoicism itself in nothing else than one great elaboration on human happiness.”
“You don’t depend on other people or circumstances for a good life. Instead, you possess the inner resources to find joy whatever you are doing.”
Stoic literature, especially for a casual reader, is not brimming with joy. Probably because of that, over time, the word ‘stoic’ came to be associated with enduring hardship without complaining rather than with the joy of living.
Some aspects of Stoic philosophy can be blindingly obvious. For instance, who could possibly take issue with the basic tenet of Stoicism that some things in our life are up to us and others are not?
Morality is said to exude charisma. From Socrates to Gandhi, people who held no formal power exuded moral authority and have attracted people drawn by their moral charisma.
We cover in this issue some of the less commonly discussed themes of Stoicism. Our contributors in this issue argue that we are used to comforts, pity others who are less fortunate, find it hard to cope with situations like the pandemic, find it difficult to cope with transience and imperfection, and we are tired.
In A Scandal in Bohemia, a conversation between Sherelock Holmes and Watson goes like this: