How To Be A Stoic

Book Notes

Okay, anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Classic Stoicism, which is a far cry from Modern Stoicism which is essentially, "Grin, shut the f--- up, bear it," as best represented by the character Spock. Classic Stoicism is more about accepting reality as it is, being neither really happy nor really sad, knowing that pretty much everything but ourselves is outside of our control, recognizing fortune is fickle, and that we are all going to f'ing die so accept it already. There are elements of acceptance in Stoicism, but the acceptance is of things outside of our control, not for things inside of our control nor for things we can affect. As someone with a strong sense of fair play and a large amount of frustration with the lack of fairness in the world, I find Stoicism to be a way to endure the crappiness of being human.

Which is to say, I've been looking for a book that I can hand to people who are curious about Classic Stoicism, without suggesting they read a dozen books to gather the different parts into one cohesive unit, much as I would hand over a copy of Mindfulness in Plain English if asked for a book about mindfulness.

I think this book might be that book, that I recommend for Stoicism. Maybe. It's hard to beat Meditations and many of Seneca's works. I'll reread it at the end of the year and see if it holds up.

Yet, I do strongly recommend this book.

Although public criticism of religion (or of any idea) is the staple of a healthy democratic society, people don’t respond very well to being belittled and insulted.
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Seneca connected this test to the rest of our existence on earth: “A man cannot live well if he knows not how to die well.”
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Of course, Stoicism is a philosophy, not a type of therapy. The difference is crucial: a therapy is intended to be a short-term approach to helping people overcome specific problems of a psychological nature; it doesn’t necessarily provide a general picture, or philosophy, of life. A philosophy of life is something we all need, however, and something we all develop, consciously or not.
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One of the first things he learned from his new teacher was to practice not being ashamed of things of which there is nothing to be ashamed.
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Like Socrates before them—and unlike a number of other philosophers then and since—they were not interested in theory for theory’s sake. If philosophy was not useful to human life, then it wasn’t useful at all.
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There are three departments in which a man who is to be good and noble must be trained. The first concerns the will to get and will to avoid; he must be trained not to fail to get what he wills to get nor fall into what he wills to avoid. The second is concerned with impulse to act and not to act, and, in a word, the sphere of what is fitting: that we should act in order, with due consideration, and with proper care. The object of the third is that we may not be deceived, and may not judge at random, and generally it is concerned with assent.
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Moreover, biologists have systematically been finding that a long list of allegedly unique human traits are actually not unique to us at all. We are not the only animals to live in cooperatively social groups, nor the only ones to use tools. Nor are we the only species with complex communication abilities, nor even the only ones displaying what we would call moral behavior (which can be seen among bonobos and other primates).
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In the end, it seems that neither biological variation nor cultural diversity can be reasonably deployed to reject what the ancients thought was obvious: we are a very different species from anything else that planet Earth has produced over billions of years of evolution, both for better (our stunning cultural and technological achievements) and for worse (the environmental destruction and the pain and suffering we have imposed on other species as well as on our own).
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When we consult the belly, or our passions, when our actions are random or dirty or inconsiderate, are we not falling away to the state of sheep? What do we destroy? The faculty of reason.
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The Stoics perfected this idea of ethical development and called it oikeiôsis, which is often translated as “familiarization with” or “appropriation of” other people’s concerns as if they were our own.
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First, it is a forceful reminder that they were interested in practice, not just theory: their aphorisms were meant to benefit the prokoptôn, that is, to help the student of Stoicism make progress. Unlike modern bumper stickers, T-shirt slogans, and so forth, which primarily signal membership in a particular group and tend to be used as a metaphorical club with which to beat those who are not like-minded, Stoic stock phrases were employed by practitioners as personal reminders, as aids for daily meditation, or as a guide to behavior when they were in doubt.
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Being vegetarian, in and of itself, is no proof of superior moral quality, but it is a good thing to do if other considerations do not outweigh that choice.
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We live in far too intricate social environments to be able to always do the right thing, or even to do the right thing often enough to know with sufficient confidence what the right thing is to begin with. Most of the different demands made on us have an ethical dimension (animal suffering, environmental damage, the treatment of waiters), but some are also more practical (I need to eat, but where is my food coming from? I need to bank, but which bank am I supporting?).
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Stoicism is about developing the tools to deal as effectively as humanly possible with the ensuing conflicts, does not demand perfection, and does not provide specific answers: those are for fools (Epictetus’s word) who think the world is black and white, good versus evil, where it is always possible to clearly tell the good guys from the bad guys. That is not the world we live in, and to pretend otherwise is more than a bit dangerous and not at all wise.
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In other words, by all means go ahead and avoid pain and experience joy in your life—but not when doing so imperils your integrity. Better to endure pain in an honorable manner than to seek joy in a shameful one.
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I would be intellectually dishonest, however, if I did not put forth my own opinion, just as I did during my friendly chat with Epictetus. This is what good philosophers—and reasonable people in general—are supposed to do: listen to each other’s arguments, learn and reflect, and go out for a beer to talk it over some more.
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Hume’s point is subtle but crucial: he is basically saying that arguments from analogies, of which the one from design is an example, are notoriously problematic because analogies are always imperfect, and in some cases downright misleading.
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The only difference between human beings and other animals is that we are capable of the highest attribute of God/ Universe: reason. That is why the proper way to live our lives is by using reason to tackle our problems.
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Seneca aptly put it, “That which is true is mine,” meaning that a reasonable person makes truth her own, regardless of whether it comes from friends or foes.
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One of the things that attracted me to it from the get-go is precisely what others may consider one of its weaknesses: given the Stoic ambiguity over how to interpret the Logos, Stoics can build a very large tent indeed, welcoming everyone from atheists to agnostics, from pantheists and panentheists to theists, as long as none of these guests impose their own metaphysical views on the others.
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‘And I am bound to say what seems right to me.’ ‘But, if you say it, I shall kill you.’ ‘When did I tell you that I was immortal? You will do your part, and I mine. It is yours to kill, mine to die without quailing: yours to banish, mine to go into exile without groaning.’
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Conservatives tend to talk a lot about both character and virtue, even when they do not actually practice the latter, while liberals reflexively treat their valorization as thinly disguised tools of oppression.
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The reason why wisdom is the “chief good,” according to Socrates, is rather simple: it is the only human ability that is good under every and all circumstances.
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To be sure, being wealthy is better than being poor, being healthy is better than being sick, and being educated is better than being ignorant (standard pairs of preferred and dispreferred indifferents).
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The Stoics adopted Socrates’s classification of four aspects of virtue, which they thought of as four tightly interlinked character traits: (practical) wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Practical wisdom allows us to make decisions that improve our eudaimonia, the (ethically) good life. Courage can be physical, but more broadly refers to the moral aspect—for instance, the ability to act well under challenging circumstances, as Priscus and Malala did. Temperance makes it possible for us to control our desires and actions so that we don’t yield to excesses. Justice, for Socrates and the Stoics, refers not to an abstract theory of how society should be run, but rather to the practice of treating other human beings with dignity and fairness.
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Basically, Aquinas kept the four Stoic virtues and added three peculiarly Christian ones, originally proposed by Paul of Tarsus: faith, hope, and charity.
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a set of six “core” virtues: Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal; examples include bravery, perseverance, and authenticity (honesty). Justice: Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life; examples include fairness, leadership, and citizenship or teamwork. Humanity: Interpersonal strengths that involve “tending and befriending” others; examples include love and kindness. Temperance: Strengths that protect against excess; examples include forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-control. Wisdom: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge; examples include creativity, curiosity, judgment, and perspective (providing counsel to others). Transcendence: Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning; examples include gratitude, hope, and spirituality.
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at the center of the Cynic-Stoic concept of cosmopolitanism: the idea that we ought to extend the sympathy we have for kin to our friends, acquaintances, fellow countrymen, and beyond to humanity at large (and even, some Stoics hinted, to the suffering of sentient animals).
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conservatives insisting that we should go back to emphasizing character in schools, families, and the country at large, and liberals rejecting such talk as a not-so-subtle attempt to maintain white male privilege, patriarchy, and the like.
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In other words, your character is your best calling card, and if you interact with good judges of character, that’s all you’ll need.
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Indeed, what will be needed are exactly the fundamental virtues: the courage to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, the temperance to rein in excesses, a sense of justice in considering how people are going to be affected by his decisions, and of course the practical wisdom that will allow him to negotiate treacherous and always-changing waters.
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Epictetus used an apt seafaring metaphor to make a related point: For the helmsman to wreck his vessel, he does not need the same resources, as he needs to save it: if he turn it but a little too far to the wind, he is lost; yes, and if he do it not deliberately but from mere want of attention, he is lost all the same. It is very much the same in life: if you doze but a little, all that you have amassed up till now leaves you. Keep awake then and watch your impressions: it is no trifle you have in keeping, but self-respect, honor, constancy, a quiet mind, untouched by distress, or fear, or agitation—in a word, freedom. What are you going to sell all this for? Look and see what your purchase is worth.
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And above all, we need to be cognizant of what our integrity is worth: if we decide to sell it, it shouldn’t be for cheap.
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One of the intriguing characteristics of the piece is that it can be (and has been) read either as a tale of misogyny and xenophobia (Medea is a woman and a barbarian) or as a proto-feminist story of a woman’s struggle in a patriarchal society.
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‘Suppose I am in error, my father, and ignorant of what is fitting and proper for me. If, then, this cannot be taught or learnt, why do you reproach me? If it can be taught, teach me, and, if you cannot, let me learn from those who say that they know.
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The point is that nobody errs on purpose. Whatever we do, we think it is the right thing to do, according to whatever criterion we have developed or adopted to establish right action.
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Part of the controversy hinged on the idea Arendt developed that “evil” is often the result of lack of thought, meaning that people usually don’t want to do evil, and certainly don’t think of themselves as evildoers. But they also tend to follow the general opinion without critical analysis, and indeed—as in Eichmann’s case—they are often convinced that they are doing a good job.
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There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, correct?
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If what we are doing is simply labeling a particularly nasty type of bad behavior, then there is little problem. But not infrequently, when we talk of evil, we slide into a fallacy known as “reification” (literally, making a thing), which means speaking of a concept as if it has some kind of mind-independent existence, as if it is in some sense “out there.”
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It has no metaphysical consistency: it is simply a shorthand for the really, really bad stuff that people do, or for the really, really bad character that leads people to do said stuff.
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“A-gnoia means literally ‘not-knowing’; a-mathia means literally ‘not-learning.’ In addition to the type of amathia that is an inability to learn, there is another form that is an unwillingness to learn.… Robert Musil in an essay called On Stupidity, distinguished between two forms of stupidity, one he called ‘an honorable kind’ due to a lack of natural ability and another, much more sinister kind, that he called ‘intelligent stupidity.’”
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Medea knew it was wrong to make her children suffer to punish Jason, but emotion (vengeance), not reason, drove her to act as she did. Epictetus
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That is, Medea did not wish to err, but was simply convinced that she was doing the right thing.
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Cognitive dissonance is a very uncomfortable psychological state that occurs when someone becomes aware of the conflict between two judgments that he holds to be equally true. People do not want to experience cognitive dissonance, just as Epictetus said that people do not want to knowingly be in error.
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The uncomfortable truth is, again, that people suffering from cognitive dissonance are neither stupid nor ignorant.
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As the writer Michael Shermer has observed, the more clever people are, the better they are at rationalizing away the sources of their cognitive dissonance.
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As far as the rest of us are concerned, remembering that people do bad things out of lack of wisdom is not only a reminder to be compassionate toward others, it also constantly tells us just how important it is to develop wisdom.
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I had moved to the United States from Rome a couple of years earlier, and the whole idea of televised debates as “infotainment” was very new to me.
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When he was asked in an interview who didn’t make it out of the Hanoi Hilton, Stockdale replied: Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh,
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Epictetus’s Handbook
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Stockdale understood an important truth about war that applies to life in general: holding the moral high ground and maintaining self-respect is more important than the facts on the ground, be they the weaponry on each side (in the case of war) or the circumstances of our ordinary lives.
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The results were striking: those who had spent less than two years in confinement said that torture was the worst; those who had spent more than two years in isolation said that the latter experience trumped even torture.
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Stockdale interpreted Rutledge’s finding in the light of Epictetus’s teachings—that it is shame, not physical pain, that truly brings down a human being.
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Observing and imitating role models, then, is one powerful way to work on our own virtue.
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The problem nowadays is that, by and large, we do a pretty bad job of picking role models. We glorify actors, singers, athletes, and generic “celebrities,”
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A similar problem arises with the contemporary, highly inflated use of the word “hero,” especially in the United States. Some brave people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the common good truly deserve that appellative (though they don’t have to be almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the military or the police). But someone who dies, say, as a result of a terrorist attack is not a hero—he is a victim. He probably did not display courage and other-regard; he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We should most certainly mourn him, but labeling him a “hero” does not do justice to what actually happened, and it does a great injustice to actual heroes, confusing people about the very meaning of the term.
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The other thing to remember about role models—and the Stoics understood this very well—is that they are not perfect human beings, for the simple reason that there is no such thing. Moreover, making perfection an integral part of our concept of role model means that we are setting a standard that is impossibly high.
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For Christians, the model of universally good behavior is Jesus, but that’s a tough role model to actually attempt to emulate, since believers are literally trying to be like gods. Bound to fail, we have to accept the divinity’s mercy as our path to salvation.
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For instance, in 72 bce, he volunteered to fight against the rebel slave Spartacus, clearly not having paused to consider that the revolt might have been a reaction to extreme injustice.
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But that would be exactly the wrong way to look at him, because it would be an attempt to make him a godlike figure capable of doing what no human being can do: completely transcend his own upbringing.
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“Alea iacta est” (The die is cast).
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by hearing about great deeds that we not only become inspired by what human beings at their best can do, but also are implicitly reminded of just how much easier most of our lives actually are.
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Larry’s first point is to realize the importance of agency. It has been crucial for him to feel like an agent in the world, not a patient.
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After you have reclaimed your agency, Larry points out, you are in the same position as everyone else: you have to become good at being an agent. This, he says, requires lining up the following elements: values, preferences, goals, deliberations, decisions, and actions. If these are incoherent, incomplete, or weak, then you are paralyzed no matter what your physical condition happens to be. You can also be paralyzed by indecision, because you are not committed to a particular course of action and wish to keep multiple possibilities open. Facing too many choices on the menu, or too many cars on the dealer’s lot, isn’t a good thing, as modern cognitive science clearly shows. To complicate things, there is the fact that the world itself changes, requiring constant adjustments to our goals, decisions, and actions. In other words, we need to learn how to maintain agency under changing circumstances.
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Knowing our physical and psychological abilities includes knowing our limits. Ignorance, or worse, self-deception about our own abilities can be very dangerous. We need to keep an up-to-date, accurate account of what is possible for us.
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Larry also counsels us to train ourselves to recognize when we have lost a good fit between our abilities and our activities. We must develop what he calls an internal alarm system, which will tell us when it’s time to stop suffering and begin (or resume) taking charge.
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Rather, Larry suggests making a habit of reflecting on what is important to us and on the best way to achieve it, and also to continuously revise our life plan, according to our changing abilities and circumstances. Our dynamic plan should be coherent, ambitious, achievable, revisable, and—ideally—compatible with a generally rising level of life satisfaction.
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Lastly, Larry cautions us to beware of brick walls. We need to recognize them when we hit them; even better is to see them coming before we hit them hard. The
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To begin with, he says that one of the crucial things for people affected by depression is to constantly monitor themselves and their mental condition. If there is anything that Stoicism trains people to do it is to monitor their own reactions and reflect critically on how they perceive and interpret the world.
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suffering from a depression that stemmed in part from the gulf he had gradually realized existed between his expectations about his life and the world, on the one hand, and his life and the world as they were, on the other hand.
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“Depressed people are rather self-aware; in fact, they are too self-aware, and too negatively so, often deriding themselves for small infractions of their own idealized standards, putting themselves down for not being perfect even in a world they recognize as being full of imperfections and human capital squandered.
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For one thing, I have become a collector of insults: On being insulted, I analyze and categorize the insult. For another thing, I look forward to being insulted inasmuch as it affords me the opportunity to perfect my ‘insult game.’
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Think of Irvine’s “insult game”: what someone says to us is his opinion, which may or may not be grounded in fact. Whether we perceive someone else’s remark as an insult or not is entirely up to us, quite regardless of the intention of our interlocutor.
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Well, is it true? At one time in my life it was. In which case, why get offended? What does it even mean to feel insulted by a fact? Conversely, is it not true? Then the fellow who hurled the insult is both childish in his behavior and factually wrong. How is that going to injure me? If anything, he is the one who loses in the confrontation.
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The basic idea, again adopted by modern cognitive behavioral therapy and similar approaches, is to regularly focus on potentially bad scenarios, repeating to yourself that they are not in fact as bad as they may seem, because you have the inner resources to deal with them.
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Now, why would anyone, let alone someone who is depressed, want to imagine the worst on purpose? Well, for one thing there is the empirical observation that it actually works: visualizing negative happenings decreases our fear of them and mentally prepares us to deal with the crisis when and if it ensues. But there is a flip side to visualizing the negative: we gain a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for all the times when bad things do not happen to us, when we leisurely drive down the road on a beautiful day or enjoy the presence of our loved ones because they are very much alive and well.
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Seneca wrote about self-knowledge and suggested that sometimes we are the worst obstacles to our own improvement: we see where we should go, which is where we want to go, and yet somehow we can’t pick ourselves up and begin the journey.
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all the major Stoic authors insist that it is crucial that we reflect on our condition and truly make an effort to see things in a different light, one that is both more rational and more compassionate.
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The second point Epictetus makes is crucial: we are so distraught about the prospect of our own death precisely because, unlike wheat and most other species on earth presumably, we are capable of contemplating that thought. And yet, knowing something does not change the nature of the thing of course—it just changes our attitude about it.
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the fundamental Stoic idea of the dichotomy of control: death itself is not under our control (it will happen one way or another), but how we think about death most definitely is under our control.
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“Will you realize once for all that it is not death that is the source of all man’s evils, and of a mean and cowardly spirit, but rather the fear of death?
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Those around us cannot cure our illness or save us from death, but they can accompany us part of the way, comforting us before we get there.
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“What do you mean by ‘die’?” Epictetus corrected me. “Do not use fine words, but state the facts as they are. Now is the time for your material part to be restored to the elements of which it was composed. What is there dreadful in that?
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If so, how would an already diseased planet sustain the thirst for natural resources of a population that grows so relentlessly and manage its ever-escalating production of waste products?
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Others must come into being, even as you did, and being born must have room and dwellings and necessaries. But if the first comers do not retire, what is left for them?
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Just as, for the Stoics, death itself is what gives urgent meaning to life, the possibility of leaving life voluntarily gives us the courage to do what is right under otherwise unbearable circumstances.
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It is, in other words, our own judgment that tells us whether it is time to walk through the open door or whether we should stay and fight another day.
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he was a flawed man (as he himself repeatedly wrote) who tried his best under nearly impossible circumstances. Seneca succeeded in guiding Nero and containing the damage for the first five years of his reign, even if he eventually lost control of the increasingly unhinged emperor.
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Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther
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It is not in our power to make thievery disappear from the world, but it is in our power to engage in a battle of attention with thieves, if we think that’s worth our efforts and time.
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And Seneca explicitly advised taking a deep breath and going for a walk around the block upon first feeling the uncontrollable rise of rage, which he considered a type of temporary madness.
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The APA tells us to change standard phrases like “this is terrible!” to something along the lines of “I’d rather not have to deal with this, but I can manage it, and getting angry isn’t going to help me at all.”
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Epictetus—reminds us: “Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself.”
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we need to realize that—contra common cultural belief—it just isn’t the case that every problem has a solution. We therefore need to cut ourselves some slack for not being able to solve everything, so long as we have done all we can reasonably do under the circumstances.
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Additional suggestions from professional psychologists include changing your environment, for instance, by taking a physical break from the problematic situation; shifting the timing of your interaction with another person if the present moment seems not to be the best time to handle the problem, but being sure to set an alternative time for coming back to it in order to send the signal that you are not dodging it; practicing avoidance by not exposing yourself, if possible, to the cause of your distress; and finding alternative ways of doing what you need to do that may reduce the opportunity for conflict while still allowing you to accomplish your goals.
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Killeen distinguishes loneliness from similar, yet separate, related concepts, such as alienation (which may be the result, or in some cases the cause, of depression) and solitude (which actually has a positive connotation, more akin to my own behavior).
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The Killeen paper provides a handy summary diagram identifying a series of causes related to our situations and our characters that lead to loneliness, including bereavement, psychological vulnerability, reduced social network, depression, and radical life changes.
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As Killeen says: there is no reason to be embarrassed because (some degree of) loneliness is a natural condition for humanity, and Stoics reject the whole idea of embarrassment, especially with respect to societal expectations, because we have no influence over other people’s judgments, only over our own behavior.
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We may have little or no control over the external circumstances that force us into being alone at some times in our lives. But (save for pathological conditions, for which one needs to seek medical help), it is our choice, our own attitude, that turns solitude into loneliness. We may be alone, but we do not consequently need to feel helpless.
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The point, rather, is that human affection needs to be guided—trained even—by a sound assessment of whatever situation triggers our feelings.
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true friendship, like true love, is revealed when the going gets tough, not when things are nice and easy.
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friendship of the good is that rare phenomenon when two people enjoy each other for their own sake because they find in each other an affinity of character that does not require externalities like a business exchange or a hobby. In those cases, our friends become, as Aristotle famously put it, mirrors to our souls, helping us grow and become better persons just because they care about us.
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Each day reread Epictetus’s words several times, whenever you have a minute, and focus on putting into practice that day a specific piece of advice.
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four Stoic virtues: (Practical) wisdom: Navigating complex situations in the best available fashion Courage: Doing the right thing, both physically and morally, under all circumstances Justice: Treating every human being—regardless of his or her stature in life—with fairness and kindness Temperance: Exercising moderation and self-control in all spheres of life
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1. Examine your impressions.
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stepping back to make room for rational deliberation, avoiding rash emotional reactions, and asking whether whatever is being thrown at us is under our control (in which case we should act on it) or isn’t (in which case we should regard it as not of our concern).
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2. Remind yourself of the impermanence of things.
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we should constantly remind ourselves of just how precious our loved ones are precisely because they may soon be gone. Anyone
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“Memento homo” (Remember, you are only a man).
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I always regretted the way I responded to my father’s illness—until Stoicism taught me that regret is about things we can no longer change and the right attitude is to learn from our experiences, not dwell on decisions that we are not in a position to alter. Which
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None of this made the experience any less hard, since Stoicism isn’t a magic wand. But I tried my best to be present in the hic et nunc, the here and now, as the Romans used to say.
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he is advising us to care and appreciate very much what we now have, precisely because Fate may snatch it from us tomorrow.
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3. The reserve clause.
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I love the “which is impossible if I go all to pieces whenever anything bad happens” bit. It conjures an image of people who are too fragile to withstand even minor challenges in life because they let themselves be fragile. They always assume that of course things will go well, since bad things only happen to other people (possibly because they somehow deserve them). Instead, as Stoics, we should bring the reserve clause to anything we do, and even use it as a personal mantra: Fate permitting.
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There is a nice analogy in Stoic lore meant to explain the point. It is attributed to Chrysippus—the third head of the original Stoa of Athens—and was allegedly recounted in one of Epictetus’s lost volumes of the Discourses. Imagine a dog who is leashed to a cart. The cart begins to move forward, in whatever direction the driver, but certainly not the dog, chooses. Now, the leash is long enough that the dog has two options: either he can gingerly follow the general direction of the cart, over which he has no control, and thereby enjoy the ride and even have time to explore his surroundings and attend to some of his own business, or he can stubbornly resist the cart with all his might and end up being dragged, kicking and screaming, for the rest of the trip, accumulating much pain and frustration and wasting his time in a futile and decidedly unpleasant effort. We humans are, of course, the dog: the universe keeps churning according to God’s will (if you have religious inclinations) or cosmic cause and effect (if your taste is more secular).
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Rather, it is to deploy the wisdom that sometimes things will not go our way even if we do our best, and regardless of whether we deserved to win the match or get the promotion.
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4. How can I use virtue here and now? “For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it.
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you cannot control disease and pain, and it will happen at some point or another in your life. But you can manage it, not just with medications (there is certainly nothing in Stoic doctrine that precludes the use of medicine when appropriate), but also by way of your own mental attitude.
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5. Pause and take a deep breath. “Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.
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6. Other-ize.
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Naturally, it is far easier to maintain equanimity (which, again, is not to be confused with emotional impassivity!) when little inconveniences, or even disasters, happen to others rather than to ourselves.
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Accidents, injuries, disease, and death are unavoidable, and while it is understandable to be distraught over them
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we can take comfort in knowing that they are in the normal order of things. The universe isn’t after anyone—or at least, it isn’t after any one of us in particular!
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7. Speak little and well. “Let silence be your goal
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Why should we care at all about what the Kardashians (or any other celebrities of the moment) are doing? To say that an interest in such matters is the hallmark of a rather shallow mind sounds elitist of course, and therefore distasteful to our modern sensibilities, but only because we have been conditioned to think that “serious” talk is boring and at any rate requires more background knowledge and attention than most of us associate with good conversation.
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8. Choose your company well.
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people who are interested in following virtue and cultivating their character.
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Even more generally, this is simply the sound advice that our life is short, temptation and waste are always lurking, and so we need to pay attention to what we are doing and who our companions are.
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we want to be with friends who are better than ourselves, so that we can learn from them. At the very least, we want our friends to be the sort of people who can hold up a mirror to our soul, so that we can look into it frankly and gain a better idea of just how much work needs to be done on it
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9. Respond to insults with humor.
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“If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don’t try to defend yourself against the rumors; respond instead with, ‘Yes, and he doesn’t know the half of it, because he could have said more.’”
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I have begun to internalize the concept that an insult works, not because it is intended as such by the person who delivers it, but because the target allows it to become an insult.
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The more you train yourself to endure insults the stronger you feel psychologically, and therefore the more you can react appropriately and effectively, and vice versa: taking a stance against bullying enables you to see it for the infantile attitude that it really is (even, or especially, when engaged in by “adults”), and this insight then leads to the fostering of greater resilience.
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Is this person a friend or someone you look up to? If yes, then it is more likely that she is just offering advice, perhaps in a somewhat pointed fashion, but with good intentions nonetheless.
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10. Don’t speak too much about yourself.
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It feels good because, as we have seen with a number of the other exercises—and indeed as the Stoics themselves clearly recognized—there is a peculiar pleasure in being able to exercise some self-control.
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gym. I don’t know about you, but when I get to my local gym and someone from behind the reception desk smiles and greets me with a loud and cheerful, “Enjoy your workout!” the first thought that comes to my mind is: Who on earth enjoys working out? Yes, I know, some people actually do enjoy it, but most of us don’t. And yet, it is the sort of thing we do because we have reflected on the benefits of doing it and decided that the gain is worth the pain, as they say. But it is also the case that once we get to the end of the workout and head to the shower, we feel a peculiar sort of satisfaction, not only from the physiological benefits of the exercise but also from being able to pat ourselves on the back and say: it was hard, we didn’t really want to do it, but we did it!
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11. Speak without judging.
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The idea is to distinguish between matters of fact—to which we can assent if we find them justified by observation—and judgments, from which we generally ought to abstain, since we usually don’t have sufficient information.
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12. Reflect on your day.
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“Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids till you have reckoned up each deed of the day—How have I erred, what done or left undone? So start, and so review your acts, and then for vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.”
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conceal nothing from myself, and omit nothing: for why should I be afraid of any of my shortcomings, when it is in my power to say, “I pardon you this time: see that you never do that anymore”?…
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