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We label people on the basis of very little information. We’re prejudiced. Oh, he’s a teacher. Oh, she’s a woman. Oh, look at those shoes he’s wearing. We judge others constantly. We find flaws in others as if it’s a game. It’s not really that we always want to judge them. It happens automatically, these judgments pop up almost magically in our minds.
This is one of my favourite Stoic ideas:
Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: ‘For such a small price I buy tranquility and peace of mind.’ – Epictetus, Enchiridion 12
Is it not madness and the wildest lunacy to desire so much when you can hold so little? (Seneca, Consolation to Helvia, 10)
We act surprised by what happens
The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around them. That’s all you need to know. Nothing more. Don’t demand to know ‘why such things exist.’ Anyone who understands the world will laugh at you, just as a carpenter would if you seemed shocked at finding sawdust in his workshop, or a shoemaker at scraps of leather leftover from work. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8.50)
We are puppets on strings
If a person gave away your body to some passersby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled—have you no shame in that?
(Epictetus, Enchiridion, 28)
How to live a good life? This classic philosophic question stands at the origin of the primary concern of Stoic philosophy: How to live one’s life, or how to master “the art of living.”
Dear stranger... the things that seem to stand in our way, maybe they are here for us. Not against us.
Fear of death is irrational - There’s nothing we fear more than our own death. Yet this fear is irrational, say the Stoics, nothing but rumors from the living.
Are we listening? Once you start observing conversations, you’ll quickly recognize that most people are terrible listeners.
We have no grounds for self-admiration, as though we were surrounded by our own possessions; they have been loaned to us. We may use and enjoy them, but the one who allotted his gift decides how long we are to be tenants; our duty is to keep ready the gifts we have been given for an indefinite time and to return them when called upon, making no complaint:.
Seneca, Consolation to Marcia
Remember that you are an actor in a play determined by the author: if short, then short; if long, then long. If he wants you to act as a beggar, then act even that with excellence, just as a cripple, a ruler or a citizen. Because that is your objective: to act the role that is given to you well. To select the role is up to someone else.
Epictetus, Enchiridion 17
Stoicism isn’t an easy-to-follow road. There are many principles to keep in mind and to live by.
I will sail across the ocean, if nothing prevents me.
Attributed to Seneca by Donald Robertson
What are you reading this magazine for?
You won’t get a badge of honor or some other award for learning about Stoicism. Nobody cares what books you read or what you know about ancient philosophy.
When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.11