Stoicism

“It is our perception of things, rather than things themselves which cause trouble”

Philosophy made real

Part of my learning journey has been delving into the world of the stoics so I share some of that here.

What?

An ancient philosophy in search of the ‘good life’.  Although often thought of as emotionless, dull, distant or defunct it is in fact vibrant and action orientated.  Stoicism provides the strength and stamina you need for a challenging life.

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can clearly say to myself which are externals not under my control, and which to do with the choices I actually control.  Where then do I look for good or evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” Epictetus.  In other words Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t.

Founded in Athens by Zeno in the 3rd century BC ‘stoa’ literally means ‘porch’ which is where the first lessons were held.  Within the world of the stoics happiness derived from the following virtues –

  • Self Control
  • Courage
  • Justice
  • Wisdom

And the disciplines of –

  • Perception
  • Action
  • Will

Unlike other philosophies stoicism focuses on logic and ethics looking for real actionable answers.


How to apply Stoic principles

If we can focus on making clear what parts of our day are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, we will have a distinct advantage over other people who fail to realize they are fighting an unwinnable war.

In other words if your flight is delayed due to bad weather – yelling at an airline representative will not end the storm.  No amount of wishing will make you taller, shorter or born to different parents or in a different country.    No matter how hard your try, you cannot make someone like you.  Time spent hurling yourself into these immovable objects is time not spent on the things we can change.

You cannot undo the choices we have made or the hurt we may have caused.  But we can change the future – through the power we have in the present moment.  In other words the choices we make right now.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.


Who were the early Stoics?

Epictetus was born a slave at about A.D. 55 in the time of the Roman Empire. Early in his life he had a passion for philosophy, and with permission from his owner, he studied Stoic philosophy under the master Gaius Musonius Rufus. After Nero’s death Epictetus began to teach philosophy in Rome and then later in Greece where he founded a philosophical school teaching Stoicism—among his students was the future emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was born in A.D. 121, considered one of the greatest Roman emperors to have ever lived, and wrote in his journal during the dull moments of a war campaign. In his journal, which inadvertently became the book Meditations, served as reminders for Stoic principles that focused on humility, self-awareness, service, death, nature, and more.

Seneca was also a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, a tutor and adviser to Nero. His work involves dozens of essays and 124 letters that involve topics like education, friendship, civil duty, moral obligation, humility, self-awareness, self-denial, and more.