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A Look into Stoicism

The backstory

"Choose not to be harmed, and you won't feel harmed. Don't feel harmed, and you haven't been." Marcus Aurelius

This is a quote I ran into recently which sparked my curiosity on the philosophy of Stoicism. I’ve heard of this philosophy before, and believe I had a general idea of what its teachings were, but never really went in-depth at studying it until now.

The simplest definition of Stoicism is this one: the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.

On its face it seems pretty simple and straightforward. But when you dive into it, and compare its teachings to how you as a person go about your everyday thought process and life, you’ll find out it’s a much deeper and complex philosophy.

The core stuff

Stoicism was founded by zeno of citium in athens, around the year 300 b. C. It was a philosophy aimed at regular, everyday people like you and i, not just reserved for philosophers or scholars. And it is precisely because of this, that i won’t bore you to death with any additional historical details that you’ll probably won’t remember anyway.

The central theme of this philosophy is that everything in life happens with or without our permission, and it is up to us to know what we can or cannot control and how we act or react to these events. Based on this premise, we start to see how simple, yet effective this mindset is and how it can help us achieve a superior way of living.

The four fundamental mind habits (virtues) that this philosophy promotes are:

  • Wisdom: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement.
  • Courage: the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.
  • Temperance: the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.
  • Justice: the moderation or mean between selfishness and selflessness between having more and having less than one’s fair share.

By applying these virtues to their daily living, stoics believed they would become more balanced, happy, and fulfilling individuals, and would learn to navigate life in a more resilient and purposeful way.

Centuries later, these virtues remain as useful as ever. In the face of the ever increasing chaos in life, by mastering these four traits we will surely rise to a higher form of living, and maybe lead the way for others to follow.

I remember the cafeteria scene in the first spider movie, were peter (toby mcguire) first had a taste of his newfound abilities by avoiding (and watching in slow-motion) several punches being thrown at him by bullies at school. His ability to see coming and avoid the punches is kind of how i see this philosophy of stoicism. You can’t control which events you get to experience in life, but you can control how you react to them. And in order for that reaction to take place, you first need to develop wisdom, have courage, show temperance, and apply justice.

“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” Epictetus

Scratching the surface

There’s plenty of material on Stoicism to be found, and I’ve only started studying it. This post was sort of like a conversation starter, and hopefully I’ll get to revisit it in a follow-up post down the road.

For now, I’ll end with this quote below, followed up with some links where you’ll find more information on this useful philosophy. My hope is that we can all practice its teachings a little bit more everyday.

“Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed? Can’t you see? It’s just the same with you—and just as vital to nature.” Marcus Aurelius


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